A South Tyneside school is hoping to become the first special school in England to win specialist business and enterprise status.
It is expected to be one of the record-breaking 400 applications made in the latest round of bids for specialist school status, according to Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust.
Only 14 special schools have so far been awarded specialist status out of a total of 1,686 schools.
And while Epinay special school, in Jarrow, maybe in one of the most economically deprived areas of the country, its headteacher, Hilary Harrison, believes achieving this status could significantly boost the aspirations and employment chances of its pupils. "This status would develop their employability and give them a chance to become the entrepreneurs of the future," she said.
If successful, the school could gain up to pound;250,000 over four years.
It plans to build a retail centre and cafe where its 107 pupils, who are aged five to 16 and have moderate learning difficulties, could make and then sell products to local people.
The deadline for bids is today. Sir Cyril believes business and enterprise applications will feature prominently and that between 20 and 30 bids couldbe from schools applying for humanities status. This was introduced last year with just four takers.
Sir Cyril said the trust is considering allowing existing specialist schools the option of adding another subject specialism to improve choice and expertise.
He revealed that one in 10 schools surveyed by the trust recently had not yet considered or had decided not to apply at all for specialist status.
But he remains confident the trust's target that nearly all schools will be specialist by 2006 will be met.
Specialist school status provides a one-off pound;100,000 capital grant from the Government along with annual grants of pound;126 per pupil.
Special schools receive pound;630 per pupil.