Choosing a Specialist School
Specialist schools are now an important and integral factor of the schools system of the United Kingdom.
How They WorkA specialist school is - for the most part - the same as any other secondary or grammar school but will focus on a particular subject or series of subjects at its core. These schools have to offer – by law - a broad base for the National Curriculum and must meet the requirements of the National Curriculum as laid down by the state. In addition to this they can offer a more round learning opportunity in a number of specialist subjects. These subjects might include art, business and enterprise, engineering, humanities, languages, mathematics and computing, music, science, sports, technology and a list of other subjects which might be undertaken.
These specialist schools work in conjunction with so-called partner schools which is advantageous for pupils who may live outside a designated catchment area. To date there are around 2695 specialist schools operating in the United Kingdom which equates to around 85% of all secondary schools. At the time of writing there are upwards of 2.5 million students being taught in specialist schools. In order for a school to achieve specialist status it must raise its own initial funding of £50,000 in unconditional sponsorship – usually from the private sector – which is then met with a further £100,000 from a capital grant from the government / local authority.
AdmissionsIt is a common misconception that a specialist school has a special admissions procedure that differs from the normal procedure for secondary and grammar schools. This is not the case. The number of children admitted to specialist schools because they display a particular ability is only around 6% so these schools obviously have to attract pupils who wish to study certain subjects.
The normal process of completing a Common Application Form and returning it to your local authority and the school in question should they wish supplementary forms to be completed.They will have open days and will actively encourage parents to make appointments to view the schools and their facilities in exactly the same manner as non-specialist schools.
Forms should be completed and returned to the local authority in good time and with an additional choice of school should the number of pupils for the following year be limited. It is worth remembering that specialist schools often have waiting lists so it is advisable to apply in plenty of time to increase your child’s chances of being accepted.
Also it is helpful to note which areas your child can travel to in light of the named partner schools scheme. It may sometimes be necessary for your child to attend another school for elements of their education should facilities not be available at the specialist school.
Viewing a Specialist SchoolAgain make arrangements to visit the school, meet with head teachers and teachers alike, and if there is a specific subject your child has a particular interest in, try and arrange a convenient time to speak with the teacher or teachers responsible for the teaching of that subject.
Most specialist schools offer open days and indeed open evenings where parents and children can come along and experience first hand some of the benefits of this specialist education. This is mostly applicable to schools which deal in the arts or music and Science and Technology.
Request a copy of the school’s prospectus and check out their website and also monthly newsletters if they exist. And again it is worth while speaking to the parents and teachers association and other children who attend the school. You will find that most children will offer an unbiased and jargon free interpretation of what they believe is the school’s high and low points.
To recap in essence the area of specialist education is much the same as secondary and grammar school education with the advantage of being able to hone in on certain subjects. With this in mind they are worth while and offer a balanced education while being able to channel your child’s abilities into subjects they will enjoy and benefit from.