Specialist schools improving faster than other schools

Specialist schools are performing better than other schools in England, a report by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has reported.

The education watchdog found that pupils in specialist schools have performed better at GCSEs since 1998 and the rate of improvement in GCSE results was also faster in these schools.

The specialist schools survey, the second to be conducted by Ofsted, found that the range and quality of the curriculum has improved in specialist schools since Ofsted's first report, published in 2001, and said that there was no evidence to suggest that the curriculum's balance was distorted by the school having a specialist subject. It also found that having a specialist school in the area did not disadvantage other schools nearby.

David Bell, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, said: "Being a specialist school makes a difference. Working to declared targets, dynamic leadership, a renewed sense of purpose, targeted use of funding and being a contributor to an optimistic network of like-minded schools, all contribute to a climate for improvement and drive forward change."

The specialist schools programme was launched in 1994 and gave secondary schools the choice of specialising in a range of subjects, such as languages, sport, technology and the arts. There are now over 2000 specialist schools.

However, the Ofsted report found that the rate of improvement in specialist subjects had levelled off in the last three years and declined in some subjects. A number of weaknesses in different specialist schools were also identified – the report found that the quality of teaching in arts colleges was below the standard of other schools, while language schools showed the least improvement in GCSE results. Ofsted also said that the provision for pupils with special educational requirements needed to be improved in arts and sports colleges.

The Ofsted report made a number of recommendations, which included improving the quality of teaching in specialist subjects; focusing on raising standards and taking action to improve results where targets are not met; and increasing the range of vocational courses and work-related options available.

Mr Bell said: "Specialist schools must ensure that the drive for improvement is maintained. The variations in performance between specialist schools must be addressed to ensure that all types of specialist schools are consistently of the same high standard in all areas of teaching and learning."


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