Jeremy Sutcliffe reports on the move to set up 15 music and drama colleges.
Some of the biggest names in music this week gave their backing to the creation of a new breed of music colleges, signalling the latest expansion in the Government's specialist schools programme.
Sir Paul McCartney, Lord Menuhin, Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Cliff Richard are among a glittering list of supporters behind a pound;1.5 million music industry sponsorship package, which will lead to 15 state schools specialising in the performing arts being established over the next five years.
The money will be matched by up to pound;6m in Government money to enable the colleges to build up expertise in music, drama and dance and related technology. They are also expected to be eligible for lottery grants to enable them to provide after-hours clubs and share facilities with other schools and groups.
While there are already 13 arts colleges - including several specialising in performing arts - the new ones will be the first to major in music and music technology.
The sponsorship comes from the Music Sound Foundation, a charity set up last year by EMI. Its patrons include Beatles producer Sir George Martin, Yoko Ono and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.
Announcing the package at EMI's Abbey Road studios in London, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, said: "This will help thousands of young people learn new skills, not only as performers, but in a whole range of careers linked with the music and arts industries."
He said the Government would be looking to see all specialist schools "share their enhanced facilities and expertise with other schools in the area and the wider community". Ministers also looked to them to improve support for gifted and talented children.
The concept of specialist schools has had a controversial history since the first of 15 city technology colleges were established in 1987 as independent, state funded secondary schools.
Despite repeated attempts by Conservative ministers to obtain private sponsorship and a decision to extend the scheme to grant-maintained schools, it was not until it was extended to all state secondary schools four years ago that professional opposition began to subside.
After initially opposing specialist schools in opposition, Labour switched its policy. Mr Blunkett now sees them as central to his plans to "modernise comprehensive schools", despite opposition from Roy Hattersley and other senior Labour figures, who fear they will lead to a reintroduction of selection by academic ability.
There are now 290 specialist schools, including 209 technology colleges, 50 language colleges and 17 sports colleges. In total, 300 private sponsors have so far donated pound;30m, matched by around pound;100m in Government cash.
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