Sheffield is first city to adopt specialist policy for all secondary schools

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Sheffield is to become the first education authority in the country to adopt a specialist system for all secondary schools.

The plan will be announced tonight by Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, in a speech to the trust set up to advise secondary schools. All 27 secondary schools in the city are to become specialist by 2006. They will focus on subjects such as sports, languages and business and technology.

Sheffield's move highlights a shift in emphasis in the specialist schools programme since Mr Clarke took up his post last November. One of his first pronouncements was to say he wanted all schools to be given the opportunity to specialise.

He is keen to promote collaboration between specialist schools, so that pupils from neighbouring schools can take advantage of the equipment bought to complement each institution's specialisation. He does not want the programme to be seen to create a new tier of elite secondary schools. In his speech, Mr Clarke will emphasise that he sees the specialist school programme as "a mass movement to raise standards in all schools".

He will add: "The specialist schools programme has evolved from a narrow programme to an inclusive, all-embracing one."

Mr Clarke will also take on critics, such as the Commons Select Committee on Education, who say the specialist school programme has not make a discernible difference to raising standards. He will argue that figures show that 54.1 per cent of pupils in specialist schools gain at least five A* to C grades, compared with 46.7 per cent of pupils in non-specialist state schools.

But those figures are unlikely to convince at least one fellow minister, who says an obsession with testing and exam tables will demoralise teachers and end up "deadening the spirit of our children". Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told headteachers at a conference in London yesterday that the Government was "portrayed as being obsessed with exams and assessments and league tables and rankings - all of which can have the effect of sucking the joy out of being in school".

Her comments are part of a government drive to shed an image of being concerned solely with the "three Ts" of testing, targets and tables. Instead, the Government says it is aiming to promote creativity.

Over the next two years £70m will be spent in urban schools giving pupils from deprived areas the chance to visit museums, theatres and art galleries, to give them the exposure that children from more affluent homes enjoy.

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