HC Deb 23 March 2000 vol 346 cc1103-4
8. Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)

How many specialist schools there are in the UK; and what the projected number is by 2001. [114605]

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

As of September 1999, 403 specialist schools were operating in England. Our plans provide for about 200 specialist school designations by September 2001, taking the total number to more than 600.

Charlotte Atkins

Is my hon. Friend aware of the tremendous improvement in exam successes in my local specialist technology school, Clough Hall school, and the great work that it does in sharing information technology resources with the rest of the community? In view of that, will she tell me what support is given to joint school bids for specialist status, given the Government's enthusiasm for spreading the benefits of specialist school resources to the wider community?

Jacqui Smith

I am aware of the very good results achieved at Clough Hall technology school, where the proportion of pupils gaining 5 A* to C grades rose from 27 per cent. in 1996 to 39 per cent. in 1999. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating staff and pupils on that excellent effort.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the process that schools go through to become specialist schools as essential to ensuring the level of success being achieved. I can reassure her that we will look carefully at plans advanced by schools working together to achieve the improvement in standards evident at Clough Hall. That improvement is, after all, the aim of this area of policy.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

Does the Minister accept that the children who will gain most from education at a specialist school are those with ability and interest in that specialist subject? However, specialist schools are able to select only a small proportion of pupils on the basis of aptitude for the specialist subject, as defined by the Government. The maximum benefit is therefore being gained by the few, rather than by the many.

The Government have already lost a court case brought by Wandsworth council on the adjudicator's decision to reduce partial selection in some of its schools. Moreover, the Government are in court today for a case involving the ruling of an adjudicator on selection for a specialist school. Will the Government accept, therefore, that their whole adjudication process is fundamentally flawed? Does it not reflect the Government's prejudice against providing the education that is right for every child? Does it not show that the whole adjudication system should be scrapped immediately?

Jacqui Smith

No, the Government do not accept that. However, the hon. Lady's question illustrates the Opposition's obsession with the selection of the few. Our commitment is to raise standards for the many.

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