Specialist success

7th December 2007 at 00:00
While the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, is right to draw attention to those specialist schools that have not seen significant improvement as a result of their specialist status ("Inspector's surprise attack on specialists", November 30), the evidence suggests that most schools have had the opposite experience.

At my school, I have no doubt that having specialist status has had a significant impact on raising standards. Indeed, our latest Ofsted inspection praised how we have used our specialism to make improvements across the whole curriculum. The inspectors labelled us as outstanding, with a grade 1 in all areas.

Professor David Jesson's analysis has shown more widely that, on average, specialist schools achieve significantly better than other non-selective schools, both in their absolute results and on a "value added basis" when the GCSE results are compared with the same pupils' achievements at 11.

Specialist schools also lead the way in subject development, hosting networks that have driven up participation in school sport and language colleges that are working to put languages back on the curriculum for primary as well as secondary schools.

Moreover, specialist school status is a catalyst for development and innovation. Bidding for specialist status - and regaining it after four years - requires schools to examine not only their own plans and strategy for the future but also how they will work with the wider community. Collaboration is at the centre of the specialist programme, helping to improve the life chances of students.

Michael Wilkins, Director, executive principal at Outwood Grange College and Chair of SSAT's national heads steering group.

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