HC Deb 17 February 2000 vol 344 cc1100-1
12. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What proportion of secondary schools he expects to have specialist school status by May 2002. [109142]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

Plans provide for more than 600 specialist schools to be operational by May 2002. That figure represents 19 per cent. of all maintained secondary schools.

Mr. Prentice

I congratulate the Government on their decision to award technology college status to West Craven high school in Barnoldswick, in my constituency. When that decision was made, I reflected on the schools which have applied for that status and have been turned down, or which will be turned down in future. Once we have set up the complex matrix of art, technology, language and sport colleges, how will the 80 per cent. of schools that do not fall into any of those categories feel? Is there not a danger that they will feel isolated, and that they are failures?

Jacqui Smith

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating West Craven high school, which set targets to raise standards in design and technology, science, mathematics and information communication technology. I share his concern that the good work of developing specialist schools should benefit other schools in the system. The Government have ensured that there is a link between the funding provided for the specialist facilities in the school and the support provided to neighbouring schools, as a fundamental part both of the process of planning to become a specialist school and of the evaluation of an establishment's progress once it is in the scheme.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Does the Minister accept that, if schools are to enhance educational opportunity, parents must feel comfortable about choosing between different specialist schools, according to the aptitudes and needs of their children? Does she share my concern that, in areas such as Sheffield, parents are reluctant to exercise parental preference because schools are so full that parents are being offered their second or third choice rather than being able to fall back on catchment schools? Can the hon. Lady offer such parents any prospect of being able safely to express a preference between specialist and other schools, so that they can take advantage of the initiative?

Jacqui Smith

Although I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about parents being able to express a preference and have it recognised, that is not a function of the specialist school programme. What is important is the fact that the Government have enabled parents to obtain clearer information about admission arrangements—which is what parents expect and what we have delivered.

Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a world of difference between teaching in a secondary school in a comfortable suburb, with well-behaved middle-class kids, and teaching in an area where there is massive deprivation and frequently challenging classroom behaviour? I know that teachers are motivated by more than money, but should the Government not consider providing financial incentives to encourage more of our best teachers to work in some of our worst schools?

Jacqui Smith

I agree with my hon. Friend's contention that many teachers fill a challenging role in some difficult schools—and I congratulate them. Our proposals in the forthcoming Green Paper on reform in the teaching profession will address the need to recruit teachers and to ensure that those working in challenging circumstances and making a difference to their pupils' progress—which is what they are in the profession to do—will receive the recognition they deserve. Enhancing the status of teaching will also improve professionalism and recruitment to precisely the sort of schools to which my hon. Friend referred.