SPECIALIST SCHOOLS The future of specialism
With specialism funding no longer ring-fenced and the SSAT losing its government funding, Elizabeth Reid considers what the future holds for specialist schools and the SSAT itself
part of a continuum which started when the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) was founded 24 years ago. We have always argued that schools perform
best when they have autonomy. The best ideas come from teachers and school leaders freed from imposed constraints who are encouraged to innovate and share. So what does the new world mean for specialism
and for the SSAT? What do the reforms brought in by the new government mean for schools and their specialism? Our commitment to the 100 per cent principle
– raising standards for all young people – and our approach, putting schools at the centre of all our work, has never mattered more. now is the moment for the schools working together to lead the development of the education system. The prospect of schools gaining greater powers and the ability to transform the curriculum so it is tailored
e live in times of rapid change, but also enormous opportunity for the education system. Schools are getting more freedom to determine their own future and to decide how best to teach.
in many ways the changes we are seeing now are
to the needs of students has been met with enthusiasm in many schools. The power of improvements in education led by schools is increasingly realised. That is why headteachers are at the centre of the curriculum review. A significant number of schools have converted to
academy status, and many more are considering how a change of status could have a beneficial impact on the education they offer their students. Undoubtedly, specialism has been enormously
important to many schools and has helped them transform the education they offer. it has allowed schools to develop a distinctive ethos and has produced great improvements in subjects both academic and vocational. it has also formalised mutually beneficial links between primary, secondary and special schools, and other stakeholders including business and the community. Specialist schools have also helped re-invigorate
subjects like physics, chemistry and modern languages, improving take-up after concerns about their decline and driving up exam success. For example, 55 per cent of students at language colleges gained an A* to C grade in a modern language gCSe compared with 29 per cent for schools nationally. The government has removed the ring-fencing
around money paid to specialism, which will now be incorporated into mainstream funding to schools. local authorities, in consultation with their Schools Forum, will decide on the distribution of the former specialism funding as part of the 2011/12 funding settlement – but ministers have made it clear that they want the benefits of specialism to continue. There is a strong ministerial mandate for schools to
continue with their specialist work. What is different is that it is now for schools themselves to decide how they want their work to develop. That is part and parcel of giving autonomy to school leaders and a school-led system. As the school system becomes more diverse, i
believe there will be renewed value in the distinctiveness that specialism provides. We plan to accredit the effective use of specialism in schools and thus offer continued verification of specialist status.
No more change Psycho babble
A leAding think-tank has reported that the current cuts in services are likely to lead to “social unrest”, partly because of their perceived inequality. There is, however, something else afoot here, and it has the potential to impact dramatically upon the wellbeing of our students. in the 1970s, American sociologist Alvin Toffler
predicted that the rate of change in modern civilisation would accelerate to such a degree that enormous numbers of people would experience shattering stress and disorientation. Toffler described this condition as Future Shock, and as the world feels the impact of global change, its effects put people under increasing amounts of pressure. Some of this has to do with the
fact that human biological evolution is falling behind developments in technology and lifestyle. Toffler claims that both physiological and psychological stress emerges as a result of a growing deficit between daily demands and coping mechanisms. What does this have to do
with our students? First of all, adolescence marks a period of enormous change on every level which can cause of enormous psychological or emotional stress. equally, today’s youth does tend to have a less stable home life than in the past. Parents are stressed-out, overworked, more likely to be dependent on alcohol and other rewards to cope with their own stress, the catalyst for which is sociologically deep-seated. We have high expectations for our students,
which the often outspoken and inaccurate media reminds them they have failed to achieve. Rapid and escalating changes in the labour market and further educational opportunities mean that adolescents are now confronted with a series of challenges that can push them to the brink of their ability to cope. We have a new government, which wishes
to leave its mark. Take, for example, the english Baccalaureate. This is change that impacts upon students, and potentially pushes them towards careers, educational institutions and even subjects that are
beyond the scope of their natural talents and abilities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a plumber or a mechanic, if that is where interests and skills lie. And you don’t need to speak French or Spanish to achieve this. Furthermore, there are plans to radically change the national curriculum, which will place enormous stress on teachers and schools. Change is not a bad thing, but for it to be
accepted (and acceptable), it must have clear benefits. Change for the sake of change is unnerving and counterproductive, as it genuinely undermines the stability of an institution that is paramount to the support of today’s youth. Kids of all ages thrive on consistency
and routine. There is plenty of research to suggest that an increasing number of children have more profound problems with their mental health than those 30 years ago, and it has been proposed that this is due not only to changes in the way we live now, but the sheer number of changes that
affect our students. Change can act as a trigger for emotional turmoil, particularly if the reasons for it are not perceived to be valid, or cannot be fully understood. Young people who find it difficult to cope are much more likely to experiment with alcohol, drugs and other
substances, become disaffected, or drop out. There are, of course, ways and means of supporting students and helping them to develop resilience – which i will examine in my next column.
For now, however, it’s important to recognise that even small changes can impact on our students’ wellbeing, and unseat vulnerable young adults who are finding their “groove” and exercising their rights to be individuals. educators have a strong, loud voice and now, more than ever, it needs to be heard. What’s broken can, most surely, be changed and fixed, but if that change cannot be proven to have long-term benefits that enhance rather than detract from the lives of our students, then we should stand our ground. Shouldn’t we?
• Karen Sullivan is a bestselling author, psychologist and childcare expert. She returns after half-term.
Specialist schools will be at the centre of the
curriculum review, and will play a vital role in the drive to raise standards in academic subjects like languages, english, maths, science and humanities. We are also working to help schools maximise the
potential of the academies programme. The expansion of the academies programme must act as a catalyst for school leaders to consider new ways of working, doing things differently and doing them better. So far, more than 1,000 school leaders, representing nearly 750 schools, have attended our events offering advice on conversion and we are ready to support all schools to become academies when they feel the time is right for them. Our motto has always been for schools, by schools.
Reforms to school governance makes this more relevant than ever before. Schools across the country have shown the power of partnership through our network of schools – working together to learn practical lessons and share what works in the classroom. The SSAT is encouraging schools to consider the use
of their new freedoms and the responsibilities that come with them, encouraging debate and discussion among school leaders and sharing the outcomes. Our network of leadership and innovation hub schools continue to develop their partnership working with other regional schools to offer high quality development programmes that are responsive to local context and need. We can also provide a powerful voice for school
leaders nationally. We wrote to Michael gove before Christmas raising concerns about the english Baccalaureate measure in performance tables because it changed the basis upon which students – and schools – were judged and we will continue to represent our members’ views on the implications of this new development. We are also actively involved in the debate over the future of vocational education. The rapid change in the education system means
our network of schools has never been more important – bringing together not just secondary schools, but primary and special schools both here and overseas to offer stimulating ideas, and practical projects to improve still further the education we offer. Colleagues in schools across the country have
experienced the value of co-operation which is now firmly embedded in the education system and i believe schools will support each other through the changes ahead.
• Elizabeth Reid, pictured above, is chief executive of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.
FOR BETTER CHILD HEALTH SCHOOL NURSES MORE
A properly resourced school nursing service is required to help schools meet the government’s health and wellbeing objectives.
Research published in the British Journal of School Nursing (BJSN) shows that more school nurses are needed to meet these objectives and ensure school children receive the health care and support they deserve. Therefore
the BJSN has launched a campaign to increase the number of school nurses.
For more information on the campaign visit
Support the campaign or send us your views at:
SecEd • February 3 2011
SCHOOL NURSES FOR BETTER CHILD HEALTH
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