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Schools pin hopes on specialist status bids

SIX Cheshire high schools are bidding for specialist status as centres of excellence in arts and sports under a new Government initiative.

SIX Cheshire high schools are bidding for specialist status as centres of excellence in arts and sports under a new Government initiative.

Four schools hope to become arts colleges and two have applied to become sports colleges under a scheme which could see them benefiting from an extra £120,000 in annual funding and special powers allowing them to select the best students in their disciplines.

Queen's Park High School in Chester is bidding to specialise in visual arts, while Malban School and Sixth Form College in Nantwich, Wilmslow High School and Poynton High School have applied to become performing arts colleges.

Meanwhile, Sandbach High School and Sixth Form College and The Ruskin School in Crewe are bidding to become sports colleges.

Gaining the new status would provide the schools with extra resources for infrastructure, facilities and staffing, as well as funding community schemes which would make the benefits available to neighbouring primary schools and the general public.

At present, Cheshire has six specialist schools, five in technology and one in languages.

If successful, the specialist schools will have discretionary powers to select 10pc of their intake from the most talented applicants in their chosen areas.

Inspectors will visit the schools in January and the successful applicants will receive the funding from next September.

Queen's Park High School in Chester, which has 880 students, hopes to become the county's first college for visual arts.

Curriculum leader for visual arts, Tony Jackson, said: "Specialist status will allow us to put extra resources into a number of areas such as photography, ceramics and design, as well as employing an additional art teacher.

"We have decided that we do not want to go down the selection route as we still want to maintain our profile as a comprehensive school.

"But it may be that some people do send their children here because of the new provision."

He added: "Cheshire is known to be a very strong county for the arts and this will give us opportunities to work alongside professional artists.

"We have just established a new gallery in the school and if we are successful in our bid we want to make it even larger. Chester needs a gallery and we want to provide a venue for contemporary art."

Queen's Park would play a strong role in the community, working in partnership with West Cheshire College, he said.

The school's bid was supported by a £50,000 grant from Handbridge Community Group and the new facilities would directly benefit primary schools, art clubs and community groups.

Education chairman and deputy Cheshire County Council leader, David Rowlands, said he did not agree with critics of the scheme who claimed that it threatened to create a two-tier education system by widening the gap between successful and disadvantaged schools.

He said: "Anything which allows our youngsters to get a better education has got to be encouraged.

"The selection powers will allow schools to choose pupils who have a special interest in a particular subject."

Cheshire County Council's manager for schools, Joan Feenan, added: "If schools are already happy with their pupil intake they may choose not to use selection, but schools these days are very sophisticated bodies which can make decisions for themselves.

"They will consult with the Local Education Authority about it in any case.

"We want to get the best possible deal for county schools, which will use their specialism to bring about performance across the whole of the curriculum."

The Government has said it is aiming to ensure that one in four schools in Britain will eventually enjoy specialist status.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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