HC Deb 11 February 1999 vol 325 cc451-2
6. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

If he will make a statement on future plans in relation to specialist schools. [68877]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke)

We plan to have 500 specialist schools in operation by September 2001. Our priority is to ensure that the range of schools in each specialism spreads across England, so that the benefits of the scheme are maximised.

Dr. Starkey

My hon. Friend will be aware that Milton Keynes is fortunate in having four specialist schools already. I should like to draw his attention to an example of good practice at Lord Grey school, the specialist language school, to inform schools elsewhere. It has made enormous efforts to set up links with its feeder primary and middle schools through the national grid for learning and in partnership with a local business, Yamaha Keyboards, which has supplied computer keyboards to 1,000 pupils in the feeder schools to enable them to link electronically with the modern languages resources at Lord Grey. The school is also sending teachers to teach the top-year middle school pupils French, German and Spanish, as well as Japanese culture, because Milton Keynes has a large number of Japanese businesses. Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the school on its efforts and ensure that its good example is spread throughout the country?

Mr. Clarke

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I join her in congratulating and commending Lord Grey school. I should also like to congratulate Milton Keynes as a whole, where four of the nine secondary schools—more than 44 per cent.—are specialist schools. That is the highest proportion in the country. There is a specialist school in each of the disciplines—arts, sport, Ianguages and technology. We are seeking to spread that example throughout the country. My officials stand ready to help all local education authorities and schools seeking to put forward bids as we go for the target of 500 in September 2001. The aim is to spread skills and experience widely. The specialist schools that I have visited have been—like my hon. Friend's in Milton Keynes—inspirational.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

I welcome the Minister's decision to extend the specialist schools initiative started by the previous Government. Such schools provide choice, diversity and excellence and we applaud them. In the hope of some reciprocal generosity, will the Minister applaud the performance of another group of specialist schools that concentrate on academic attainment—namely the grammar schools? On Monday, the Prime Minister said: if a school's doing a good job then we don't want to get rid of that school. Does that pledge apply to grammar schools? If it does, I invite the Minister to make a graceful retreat on his party's opposition to them.

Mr. Charles Clarke

As the hon. Gentleman knows, when we took office there were 222 specialist schools. There are now 330 and I recently announced that a further 35 will open in September. As I said earlier, our target is 500 by September 2001. I have visited many of the schools and I agree that they are inspirational and spreading value. The hon. Gentleman asked about grammar schools—a different subject, as he well knows. As the Prime Minister made clear, we commend all good-quality schools. The issues of admission are dealt with under separate legislation in a way that the hon. Gentleman well understands.