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Specialist Schools Programme

Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment he has made of the relationship between the specialist schools programme and the aim of diversity of provision; and if he will make a statement. [98906]

Specialist schools are a key driver of the Government's plans to create a more diverse secondary education sector. Schools can currently apply for one of eight specialisms (or they can combine any two). In the secondary strategy document 'A New Specialist System' we introduced two new specialisms—Music and Humanities—and an option for rural schools to add a rural dimension to an existing specialism.The Specialist Schools Application Guidance encourages headteachers and governing bodies to investigate which specialism is appropriate for them in the context of collaboration with other local secondary schools and their local education authorities (LEAs) in order to increase diversity and maximise the impact of specialist schools in the locality.A significant number of LEAs have been working with their schools on developing a strategy for increasing their specialist provision. Excellence in Cities partnerships in particular, have played a significant role in nominating and deciding when schools should go forward for specialist status. The Diversity Pathfinders LEAs are developing and implementing models of diversity based on the Specialist Schools Programme.At the beginning of February, 217 new specialist schools were designated across all eight specialims: 29 Arts, 28 Business & Enterprise, 4 Engineering. 14 Language, 26 Mathematics & Computing, 40 Science, 40 Sports and 29 Technology Colleges, and 7 schools with combined specialisms.However, our aim of increasing diversity in the secondary sector goes beyond the Specialist Schools Programme. Academies, again with a special curriculum emphasis, will also contribute to diversity of provision. The first three academies opened in September 2002. We expect at least 33 to be open by 2006 and further academies to be opened beyond that. The Department are also encouraging new providers to come forward and offer new types of schools as they are needed. These providers will include: parents and community groups; private and charitable companies; voluntary groups including church and faith communities; those offering distinctive educational philosophies; and existing schools or consortia of schools.