Teacher Talk

Steve Robinson, 42, is head teacher at the Chaucer School in Sheffield. He is a member of the Secondary Heads Association
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The Independent Online

Charles Clarke announced last week that Sheffield is to become the first education authority in the country to bring in a specialist system for all its secondary schools. Tell us more.

The heads of all 27 secondary schools in Sheffield put together the plans. Then we approached the Department for Education and Skills saying what we wanted to do. Now they are looking at it as a way forward for the whole country.

We didn't want to be 27 schools competing against one another - we wanted to collaborate. Sheffield is a diverse city and we wanted to recognise that, but not to develop inequality of provision - specialist schools can be divisive. So rather than some schools becoming specialist, we realised it would be better for all schools to have a specialism. We are becoming a business and enterprise college.

How will the collaboration work?

In terms of teaching, specialist teaching techniques and resources can be shared. Secondly, we can run specialist classes, for example, a performing arts school could run masterclasses. I wouldn't want kids to be deprived of the opportunity to take further a subject for which they show an aptitude. Specialist schools are one side of a broader package of widening opportunities. Modern apprenticeships have been a positive development, but at the moment the provision is a bit hit and miss.

How was each school's specialism decided upon?

We sat down together and explored what to do, and mapped that against other factors. My school's in an area of extreme deprivation in the north of the city. There's an economic regeneration agenda, and money to support that is quite significant. And we have already started enterprise initiatives in school. So business and enterprise is already our particular strength. The children are running all sorts of businesses such as stationery stalls, but we are also working on more ambitious projects with an industry-based approach. The children enjoy it and are aware of markets.

How are Sheffield's school budgets for next year looking?

Across the city it varies from a standstill to a slight contraction. There are no official redundancies, but there are job losses through natural wastage.

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