Twelve new specialist schools to get pounds 3m: Network of colleges to be set up

NEW SCHOOLS specialising in sport and the arts will be set up with Government funds as part of a national network of specialist schools.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, revealed yesterday that just 12 technology colleges, the first in the network, will receive an extra pounds 3m between them.

Teachers have attacked the technology scheme because only a quarter of secondary schools are eligible for the money. Schools must be opted- out or voluntary-aided to qualify. Local authority comprehensives cannot apply.

Mr Patten said: 'They are the advance guard of what will be a much wider network covering the country. They are pilots for other specialised schools which I intend to introduce over the next five years, resources permitting, in business and languages, sports, arts and music.'

He had not yet decided whether all schools would be able to apply to specialise in these disciplines. Schools can already apply to select 10 per cent of pupils for physical education, art, music, drama or technology.

The initiative is ministers' third attempt to promote technology: the City Technology Colleges programme failed after business refused to supply enough funds, and the Technology Schools Initiative for 220 local authority schools has been dropped.

More than 40 businesses have pledged money for the new technology colleges. Each will receive about pounds 100,000 from the Government and the same in cash and equipment from business sponsors. Harraby school in Carlisle has raised pounds 400,000 from business.

The Government will also pay pounds 100 extra per pupil. Sponsor governors will be appointed to colleges' governing bodies for between five and seven years.

Mr Patten predicted that there would be 160 such schools within three years. 'These colleges will introduce a wider range of opportunities for their pupils in technology, science and maths, will expect more of their future pupils to study these areas in greater depth, and will seek to improve examination performance in these subjects.'

Critics say the initiative is about encouraging schools to opt out rather than raising standards in technology. Local Schools Information, a local authority-funded independent body, said there had been an 85 per cent fall in the first half of this year in the number of secondary schools voting to opt out of local authority control.

Mr Patten is considering forcing all secondary schools to opt out after the next election. So far, the the decision is by parents' choice, following a ballot. But asked yesterday, in light of the falling number of schools applying, whether the option of compelling schools to opt out was on the agenda, Mr Patten said: 'Wait and see.'

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