Half of pupils in specialist schools

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The Independent Online

Nearly half of secondary pupils will be taught in specialist schools from September. A further 245 schools will open, bringing the number to 1,454, enough to cater for 46 per cent of pupils, David Miliband, the Minister for School Standards, said.

Speaking to members of the Secondary Heads Association at a conference in London, he said: "We are replacing the old one-size-fits-all system ... Specialist schools are a part of a mass movement to raise standards."

Mr Miliband also announced the names of the first 100 schools to become "leading edge" secondary schools. They have been singled out for their excellent teaching standards and will head a team of secondary schools that will spread good teaching practice to their neighbours.

The Government wants 2,000 specialist schools by 2006 but Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, has also indicated he wants to give every secondary school the right to apply for specialist status in an effort to boost the numbers. Headteachers have welcomed the move, saying it will help rid the programme of its elitist image.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the association, called on the Government to remove the requirement for schools to raise £50,000 in sponsorship before seeking specialist status. He said the rulehindered schools in rural and deprived areas.

Eamonn O'Kane, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said he welcomed the idea of collaboration between schools outlined in the "leading edge" scheme. However, he added that the idea was "at odds with the differential funding received by schools".

"Schools are entitled to look somewhat askance at the idea [of collaboration] when they find that some of the schools in the group are receiving further funding than others because they are specialist schools," he said.