109. Some schools have chosen to become "specialist
schools", emphasising a particular curriculum area, although
they must continue to teach the full National Curriculum. The
initiative was launched in 1994 and, from September 2002, there
will be 834 specialist schools. Of these, 409 will be Technology
Colleges, 143 Arts Colleges, 141 Language Colleges and 141 Sports
first applications for the new specialist categories of Science,
Engineering, Maths and Computing and Business and Enterprise were
submitted in March 2002. 38 schools applied for science specialist
status and seven for engineering status. Huish Episcopi Community
School, Somerset and The King John School, Essex, which were visited
by members of the Committee in the course of the inquiry, have
recently been awarded science, and maths and computing, specialist
status respectively. The Government's target is for 1,500 secondary
schools in England (roughly 50%) to have specialist status by
2005. A similar approach has been taken in Japan, where 26 schools
are to be designated "Super Science High Schools".
This is part of a wider "Science Literacy Enhancement Initiative",
where £31million has been allocated over two years to science
110. Ruth Wright from the Engineering Council told
us that, initially, they were not enthusiastic about the idea
of engineering schools because they "thought it was probably
some way of going for a two-tier or three-tier education [system]".
These fears had been allayed following discussions with DfES,
although the Engineering Council saw similar concerns from schools
as the likely explanation for the low number of applicants for
the engineering specialism. They predicted that the numbers will
grow "once exemplar highflying Engineering Colleges
are up and running".
Stephen Timms, the then DfES Schools Minister told us that "the
first benefit I expect [from specialist schools] is an improvement
in standards. Secondly... I will expect the establishment of science
specialist schools to be able to strengthen the provision of science
in some primary and secondary schools in the area where the school
Richard Shearman of the Engineering Council told us that "if
specialist schools can be used to create good practice in the
teaching of science and technology...that could well provide useful
material for the education system as a whole".
Science specialist schools could lead the way in piloting new
approaches to the 14 to 16 curriculum.
111. There could, on the surface, appear to be some
duplication between the new specialisms and the Technology Colleges,
which have to focus on two curriculum areas chosen from science,
maths, design and technology and ICT. In practice, it seems that
many Technology Colleges have focused on the use of ICT within
school, investing most of the additional funds associated with
specialist status in purchasing hardware. We welcome the establishment
of science and engineering specialist schools as a recognition
that Technology Colleges, although numerous, are not representing
the breadth of science and technology education. The Government
should set a target for the number of science and engineering
specialist schools within the overall target of 1,500 specialist
schools by 2005.
112. All applicants for specialist status have to
raise £50,000 in sponsorship, a significant barrier for some.
Advice and support in raising sponsorship is available for schools
through the Technology Colleges Trust, which manages the specialist
schools programme on DfES's behalf.
Separately, a consortium of engineering bodies came together to
provide the sponsorship needed for three schools to apply for
engineering specialist status.
We welcome this move and would like to encourage scientific bodies
to work together to support schools in a similar way. This could
be by offering funds themselves, as in the case of the engineering
bodies, or by working with potential sponsors from business and
industry. We urge scientific bodies to consider how they can
encourage and support schools to apply for science specialist