Education is now a beacon to the future

CHANGES are happening thick and fast in the education system, and how will our schools cope with the relentless quest to raise standards?Open all hours, even during school holidays, is one solution the government will try for some comprehensive schools.

By Tracey Sparling

CHANGES are happening thick and fast in the education system, and how will our schools cope with the relentless quest to raise standards?

Open all hours, even during school holidays, is one solution the government will try for some comprehensive schools. Others are specialising in one subject, and so benefit from extra resources.

But the transformations have their critics, who say they create a two-tier education system.

Health and Education Editor Tracey Sparling finds out what schools of the future will be like.

EACH child is unique.

Most Read

And the same is true of every school.

How could it be otherwise, when a school is made up of so many individuals, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and ambitions?

And in future, the state system will be very clearly made up of different types of schools.

Each will play to its own strengths, sharing good practice with others, testing children's abilities and discovering their strengths.

Already in Suffolk we have two of the new style schools but we have yet to see City Academies or Extended Schools.

City Academies are not tied to the National Curriculum but work in partnership with sponsors, who provide up to 20 per cent of the initial capital costs.

And Extended Schools will be open at any time of the day, at weekends, or during school holidays, offering adult education courses and providing childcare and health services on school premises.

However there are already Beacon and Specialist schools in Suffolk with more possibly in the pipeline - Claydon High for example is planning to apply for media arts status this year.

Northgate High School has both specialist language, and beacon, status, which has brought huge benefits to pupils and the community.

Specialist status won the school extra money. First it raised £125,000 itself, including £100,000 sponsorship from Axa which enabled them to obtain £100,000 from the government, and £175,000 a year since.

Beacon status gains it another £40,000 a year.

Headteacher Neil Watts describes himself as 'a fan' of specialist status, and said: "A very tangible benefit is the £750,000 language centre we were able to build as a result of the extra funding.

"The centre hosts evening classes for members of the community, we also run language clubs in primary schools, and have hosted two conferences to encourage students from state schools to apply for Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

"Beacon status allows us to help other schools – we have paid for middle management at a Suffolk high school to attend a course we piloted, and it pays for a member of our staff to help out with computer systems at another school. We learn as a result.

"Both specialist and beacon status benefit Northgate pupils, the community, and other schools."

Last month, three more secondary schools, Mildenhall High, Sudbury Upper and Farlingaye High were given specialist status by the Department of Education and Skills.

Tony Lewis, member of Suffolk County Council's executive committee said at the time: "This news shows that our county's schools excel in an extremely diverse range of subjects. The standards to acquire specialist status are extremely high."

But teaching unions are not happy about some schools being 'left behind' as others receive more resources on appointment to a higher status.

A row erupted last month between two of England's biggest trade unions over plans by one of them to sponsor specialist comprehensives. Manufacturing union Amicus was to put £250,000 into ten secondary schools to develop engineering, but the NUT accused Amicus of flouting TUC policy.

Critics have also claimed that specialist schools will be able to select up to ten per cent of their intake by aptitude, and so represent a return to the old grammar school/secondary modern two-tier system.

But Mr Watts although specialist language status attracted A-level students to apply, the vast majority of pupils were from Northgate's normal catchment area, because there is no facility for Suffolk specialist schools to take pupils from outside their area.

John Dixon, regional secretary of the National Union for Teachers, told the Star in July that the two-tier education system was not going to raise standards.

He said: "All schools should be funded accordingly, with teachers given enough time and resources to do the job."

Tim Beech, regional organiser of NASUWT added: "To pinpoint resources at one school to specialise is unfair to others. Parents have a right to have an expectation of what state schools will provide, but school facilities depend on their geographical location and status, which is not necessarily the way to provide an education system."

Mr Watts said: "When only a few schools received specialist status, I could understand that criticism, but now about 50-60pc have and virtually every secondary school in Suffolk is bidding to become one."

Education Secretary Estelle Morris has insisted more specialist secondary schools will raise standards and not mean more selection.

She stressed that schools specialising in sport technology languages the arts or business and enterprise would have to share their facilities with nearby schools, and said: "Diversity is important as part of improving secondary education, but it is not about changing the admissions arrangements and it is not about selection."