SPECIALIST sports status can improve a school's academic results, inspectors have suggested, writes Warwick Mansell.
An Office for Standards in Education study of the first 26 sports colleges uncovered improvements beyond better PE results and participation in after school sport.
In almost all of the 26 schools, the proportion of pupils achieving five or more high-grade GCSEs was better than when the first colleges were launched in 1997.
Perhaps predictably, the advent of sports status in 1997 led to more pupils at the colleges taking GCSEs in PE. Results in the subject also improved - in some cases dramatically - said the report, produced jointly with the Youth Sport Trust.
But it also found that all academic results were rising at least in line with the national trend.
Sports status also helped newly-qualified teachers develop, giving them the chance to work in valuable community sports projects.
The report highlighted one school where a project to improve stdents' PE benefited all subjects.
PE staff at South Dartmoor community college, Devon, established learning goals in each area of the PE curriculum, which were published as posters around the school.
This approach was adopted in all subjects and became the basis for a new system whereby pupils monitored their own performance against targets.
There had been "a discernible raising of standards in all departments", said the report.
Another school had offered to help two of its neighbouring secondaries in drawing up a PE strategy and training teachers - leading to a dramatic improvement in both schools' GCSE results in the subject.
The study is the first attempt by OFSTED to analyse the effects of specialist status on schools.
Chris Woodhead, chief inspector, said the report showed how specialist schools "can develop better all-round achievement".
The OFSTED report 'Sports Colleges: the First Two Years' can be ordered at www.thestationeryoffice.com