Struggling secondary schools to be twinned with leading neighbours

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Up to 150 top-performing specialist schools will be twinned with struggling secondaries under a plan to halve the number of failing schools.

The blueprint is outlined today in an exclusive interview with Sir Cyril Taylor, who is in charge of the Government's drive to create 1,500 specialist secondary schools by 2006.

Sir Cyril outlines his plan on the day the Government announces the biggest expansion yet to the specialist schools programme.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, will this morning reveal the creation of 79 more specialist schools in technology, the arts, languages and sport ­ bringing the total to almost 700.

Under Sir Cyril's proposal, which is supported by ministers, "advanced specialist schools" ­ those with the biggest improvement in exam results ­ would forge links with failing secondary schools in their communities in an attempt to take them off the failing schools' register. Heads of the successful school and senior teachers would be seconded to the failing school, referred to by the Government as "schools in special measures", to improve teaching standards. Many would also share the same governing body to help drive up standards.

Sir Cyril, chairman of the Technology Colleges Trust, which was set up to support specialist schools, told The Independent: "I don't think it is right that 300,000 children in this country are receiving a very bad standard of education and that's what is happening if you look at the number of pupils in schools in special measures."

His approach is based on a model already being pioneered in Wolverhampton where the St Peter's Collegiate Church of England School, a specialist technology college, has twinned with a formerly failing school ­ Regis, now renamed the King's Church of England School. The head of St Peter's is now working at King's, the two schools have the same governing body and new staff have been hired to turn the school around.

The scheme is an adaptation of the Fresh Start initiative pioneered by David Blunkett when he was Secretary of State for Education, in which schools that had been on the failing schools register for more than two years were closed and then reopened with a new name, new staff and new headteacher. Sir Cyril believes his scheme would give them greater support.

"We think it's a terrific model and it could be replicated throughout the country," he said. "I would imagine we would have at least 100 to 150 schools who would say they'd be prepared to do this and that could halve the number of schools in special measures."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said the Government would support the idea. "There are examples where specialist schools have worked closely with other schools," she said. "Each specialist school is expected to have five non- specialist schools to work with."

Sir Cyril said specialist schools would also help combat teacher shortages. The best performing would become teacher-training schools, taking on graduates and paying them while they trained on the job.