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The Independent Online
Madam,

I am puzzled by your (and David Blunkett's) enthusiasm for specialist schools - `A painful lesson for Labour', the Independent, 28 February.

Firstly, my understanding is that the Asian Tiger's approach to education is to achieve high standards of general education and to expect employers to provide specialist training. Secondly, like most parents I know, my requirement for my own children was a sustainably broad and balanced curriculum which would keep open their options until they were mature enough to make their own decisions about their futures. I certainly did not want a specialist school for them and I cannot detect any significant new parental demand for such schools.

What most parents and pupils would like are good schools for everyone within easy reach. Such schools enhance the local communities and are naturally diverse just as local communities differ.

The most likely consequence of more specialist schools will not be educational advance but more grid-locked cities as aspiring parents attempt to reach their chosen school with their children clutching as appropriate their violas, lap-tops or hockey sticks.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Roberts,

Headteacher,

Cherwell School,

Oxford.

Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, is right to say that after 30 years of comprehensive education, the pattern of excellence at the top and the chronic under-performance at the bottom persist.

Comprehensive education was bound to be inadequate while specialist staff were spread throughout the whole system in schools where there could only be 20 to 25 per cent of children of former grammar school ability. Obviously, schools are going to have to specialise.

In Russia my husband and I visited a school which specialised in science subjects. Children were admitted about the age of nine if they showed an aptitude for sciences. Sometimes if children came from far away they boarded. If they were not making the grade an easy transfer was made to an ordinary school. The motivation of the children was extremely high and the school had children winning national awards.

If we were to adopt this type of specialisation in other subjects, too, highly qualified staff would be better employed and the needs of bright children, kicking their heels in primary schools, met. Special classes of nine and ten-year-olds should be possible.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary Carey,

Former schools adviser,

Witney,

Oxfordshire.

Send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Education Pages Editor, the `Independent', One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Fax: 0171 293 2056. Please include a daytime telephone number.

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