Specialist Schools

– in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 25 October 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:16, 25 October 2001

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose that specialist schools should share facilities and expertise with the community and neighbouring schools.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, specialist schools are required to work with a minimum of five non-specialist schools, including at least one secondary partner and target groups in their wider community. Their outreach work should be based on needs identified in consultation with their partners. This will be different for each specialist school but will typically include the sharing of equipment or facilities to teach the relevant specialist subjects, INSET provision for teachers in partner schools and courses in the local community.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Is the noble Baroness aware that in the recent Ofsted report on specialist schools, the sharing of facilities with the community was the one area where it found those schools to be defective? Given that each specialist school receives on average an extra £½ million over the course of the first five years or so, does the Minister agree that it is extremely important that they share that money and resources with the other schools? There is a good deal of evidence to show that they are linking up with partner primary schools because they help to feed in pupils. Does the Minister believe that they are doing enough to link up with other secondary schools in their neighbourhood?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, the DfES has commissioned research on the main part of the specialist schools programme. We were aware that work needed to be done on the community strand. When Ofsted told us that it wanted to do some survey work on specialist schools we encouraged it to look at the community side. As there has been a good deal of negative press reporting it is perhaps worth repeating the words of the chief inspector reported in The Times:

"We are not saying that schools are not sharing; we are simply saying this is not as strong an area of their work as it could be. There are good examples, but it needs to be developed further".

We are very conscious of this. It is only since 1999 that they have been required to share a third of their resources--an average of £40,000--with the community. We are keen that they link up with other secondary schools and primary schools, but we are equally keen that they work with the community. The notable exception to Ofsted's comments were schools specialising in sport which were commended on what they were doing.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, does the Minister agree that specialist schools are funded on the condition that they fulfil their obligations under the regulations? If a school does not do so should it not have that money withdrawn? Has any specialist school lost its status simply because it has not fulfilled its obligation?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, I repeat again what the chief inspector said. He was not suggesting that schools were not sharing, but that it is a weaker aspect of their work. We are clear that in four years, when schools reapply for their status, that will be an element that we shall look for. We recognise that the Ofsted research was done within the first year of schools being required to do this. Therefore, we expect to see some serious ground being made between now and the next time that we look at the matter.

Photo of Lord Blackwell Lord Blackwell Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister accept that one of the reasons for the undoubted success of specialist schools is the freedom that they have in managing their own budgets and the lack of interference from local authorities and central government? If the Minister accepts that, will the Government consider that maybe one of the best ways of improving schools in the surrounding area would be to reverse their policy on abolishing grant-maintained schools and to give all schools that kind of freedom?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, I do not believe that we should reverse our policy, but I accept that allowing schools to manage a great proportion of their budgets is a good thing. That is indeed why we have increasingly moved in that direction. However, I recognise that LEAs have an important part to play, not least in looking after our children's special educational needs and dealing with other issues which are best coming from an LEA source. Therefore, there is a balance to be struck. I believe that we have moved in the right direction as regards that balance.