Friday 7 September 2007

Specialists are a success story

According to a statistical analysis by academics at Staffordshire University, specialist schools only do a bit better than other comprehensives, but any benefit they enjoy is simply a result of the extra £129 per pupil that they receive. In fact, specialist schools have achieved results 12 percentage points ahead of non-specialists, comparing the proportions getting five good GCSEs, and last year's analysis showed an 11 point advantage including English and Maths. I don't know how many specialist schools these boffins have visited, but I have seen many where the gains of applying for and retaining specialist status translate into huge improvements in teaching and learning, better links with other schools, strong business links and better exam results. Even applying for specialist status can change a school's ethos and sense of purpose. What these academics seem to have ignored is the fact that huge differentials in funding between similar counties or boroughs don't translate into radically different results. For a rather sounder analysis of the exam effect of specialist status, it is worth reading Professor David Jesson's reports (pdf) which compare pupils with the same starting point in specialist and non-specialist status and don't start factoring in lots of other excuses for low achievement. They are rather more persuasive.

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