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Where two cultures will mix

A Lancashire school has become the first to specialise in both the arts and sciences, Michael Shaw reports

IF a school specialises in both arts and sciences, is it still a specialist school? The answer, according to government officials, is an emphatic yes.

They have just awarded Derby high in Bury, Lancashire, the funding to become the first arts and science specialist school.

Alison Byrne, the head, said the change was not simply a way of securing more than pound;550,000 over four years without committing to a particular subject. When the school officially assumes its new status in September, it plans to give its Year 8 students a weekly, hour-long lesson which will mix science and the arts.

Classes will cover topics including the innovative 18th-century artist Joseph Wright, who painted scientific experiments, and will also explore subjects such as music, photography, and outer space from both artistic and scientific angles.

Other pupils will take part in a series of science and arts days at the school, some involving children from Derby high's feeder primaries.

Mrs Byrne said parents and teachers preferred the school to have a broad specialism instead of enhancing a single subject.

"We know that science is going to be important for our children's lives, but we also feel they could gain qualities from the arts, to empathise, to communicate, and to understand deeply," she said.

"I can say to parents 'Whatever talent your child has, our specialism will help them'," said Mrs Byrne, adding that this approach did not undermine the idea of specialising.

"You can specialise but you can also have a diversity. The ethos of specialist schools is about enhancing certain areas and providing more opportunities," she said.

Although several schools already have specialisms in related subjects such as maths and computing, Derby high is the first to gain specialist status in two such distinct areas.

However, the arts and science combination is expected to catch on.

Following suit are other schools including the Frances Bardsley school for girls in Essex.

The new status was welcomed by the Campaign for State Education, which has criticised the specialist system for narrowing schools' focus.

Margaret Tulloch, a Case spokeswoman, said: "We have been arguing that schools should be allowed to specialise in everything, so this is a step forward."

Supporters of specialisation also insist there is nothing contradictory about combination of arts and sciences.

Christine Prentice, deputy chief executive of the Specialist Schools Trust, said: "The offer of two specialist subjects sends out the message that this is a broad, not a narrow approach."

Derby high plans to put part of its specialist funding towards building a performance and exhibition space called the Science and Performing Arts Centre for Education, or SPACE.

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