Specialist schools beat rest of state sector at GCSE

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The Independent Online

The Government's new specialist secondary schools are improving at a faster rate than the rest of the state sector.

Research shows that 57.3 per cent of pupils in the 1,837 non-selective specialist schools which sat GCSEs this summer obtained at least five A* to C grades.

This compares to 45.8 per cent of those in the 1,091 non-specialist comprehensives.

The figures, which reveal that the gap between the two sectors has grown from 9.8 per cent to 11.5 per cent, will make heartening reading for ministers in a week which has seen their education policies under fire from back-bench Labour MPs, teachers' and parents' leaders.

The report also indicates that pupils at the specialist schools are doing better at maths and English, with 44.1 per cent obtaining top grade passes in both subjects, compared to just 33.9 per cent in the rest of the sector.

Ministers are planning to compel all schools to publish details of the percentage of pupils who include top grade passes in maths and English among their five A* to C grades. They have been worried by research indicating that most of the country's improved schools achieved their new status by compelling pupils to take more vocational qualifications. GNVQs (General National Vocational Qualifications), which are to be phased out over the next couple of years, are deemed to be worth the equivalent of four GCSEs.

Research for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust shows that, of the specialist schools, those with the least impressive results were the 273 sports colleges. Only 51 per cent of their pupils obtained at least five A* to C grade passes.

The trust's report goes on to recommend that sports colleges be required to add a second specialism to their bow to boost academic performance.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust and the Government's chief adviser on specialist schools and academies, believes that this second subject should be one of the sciences.

A similar move has worked for arts colleges, which are now required to teach English and have seen their performance rise from 53.8 per cent to 55.9 per cent. The research also shows that the longer a school has been specialist, the more it has improved.

A survey of the original group of 48 schools which pioneered the scheme in 1994 shows their performance leapt from just 40 per cent to 70 per cent.

The research shows that it usually takes four years for a specialist school to start to outperform a non-specialist one.

The best results were achieved by the City Technology Colleges, set up under the Conservatives, with 85 per cent achieving five top grade passes. Most of them are now joining the Government's academies programme, which seeks by the end of the decade to set up 200 privately-sponsored schools in inner city areas where existing schools have underperformed.

Since this summer, the number of specialist schools has grown. There are now 2,400 with numbers expected to rise to 2,700 next September. By the end of the decade, ministers expect that every state secondary school will be either specialist or an academy.