News story

Specialist schools programme: Michael Gove announces changes

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Michael Gove writes to Elizabeth Reid to announce the department's intention to mainstream specialist school funding and remove the need for schools to designate or redesignate as specialist.

The Secretary of State has today announced changes to the specialist schools programme. Funding for specialist schools, including for High Performing Specialist Schools (HPSS), will be mainstreamed from April 2011. This funding, approximately £450 million for 2010-11, is not being removed from the schools system and will continue to be routed to schools through the Dedicated Schools Grant.

The Government is also announcing that schools will no longer be required to designate or re-designate as specialist, removing this bureaucratic burden. Currently they must demonstrate that they meet a range of benchmarks set by DfE.

From April 2011 the Department will therefore no longer fund the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) and Youth Sports Trust (YST) to support schools through the designation and re-designation process and run networks of specialist schools. For this financial year, the total grant for the specialism programme for the SSAT is £13 million, and for the YST it is £2.5 million.

You can read Michael Gove’s letter to Elizabeth Reid, Chief Executive of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, below:

Elizabeth Reid
Chief Executive
Specialist Schools and Academies Trust
16th Floor, Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank
London SW1P 4QP

October 2010

Since my appointment I have been reviewing existing policies and programmes in the context of the priorities that the coalition Government has set, including the Specialist Schools and High Performing Specialist Schools programmes. My aim is to ensure that the Government enables school leaders to achieve the best for the pupils and parents they serve. I know that many school leaders attest to the value of specialism as a catalyst for school improvement and as a means of developing a distinct character and ethos for their schools. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust has been instrumental in the creation of the near-universal specialist system which now exists. I am grateful to you and your predecessors, and to all SSAT’s directors and staff, for your tireless commitment to raising standards in our schools.

Now that specialism is so firmly established I believe that the time has come to remove the Government imposed prescription that has built up around the programme and to give school leaders greater freedom to make use of the opportunities offered by specialism and the associated funding. This is part of my wider commitment to trust school leaders to take decisions in the best interests of the pupils and parents they serve. Of course, Academies are already freed from centralised control and are not constrained in their choice of specialism or required to undergo designation or re-designation. I look forward to an increase in the number of schools and academies enjoying these and other Academy freedoms.

In particular, I have decided that from April 2011 funding for specialism should no longer take the form of a dedicated grant, so that all schools can decide how to develop their specialisms in the light of the total resources available to them. Schools will not be required to designate or re-designate. I should stress that funding is not being removed from schools: money currently paid as specialist schools grant will continue to be routed to schools through the DSG. This is in line with the approach set out in the Department’s consultation on the Pupil Premium, which envisaged the mainstreaming of dedicated grants wherever possible.

I have also decided not to fund the current range of HPSS options after March 2011. Again, the funding will remain with the frontline. Our best schools will continue to be able to take on system leadership roles and support others to improve, and I am looking to expand the opportunities and financial incentives available to them. Academy status already offers a route for outstanding schools to support others as does becoming a National or Local Leader of Education. I intend to set out further plans in the White Paper which is due to be published later in the autumn. Of course, I would expect locally driven collaborations to continue to develop and flourish.

I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the future of the specialist schools programme with SSAT’s National Headteacher Steering Group. Members of the Group spoke with passion about the benefits of the programme and I hope that I can continue to rely on the advice of the Group about how those benefits might be realised in a changed environment.

The Department’s grant funding agreement with SSAT, which covers support for the specialist schools programme, expires at the end of this financial year. The then Minister of State for Schools wrote to you in May 2009 explaining that the Department would to go through a competitive process in order procure any similar services in future. At this point we have no plans to commission centralised support for specialism. Officials want to discuss with SSAT the management of grant funded activities over the remainder of the financial year in the light of the changes outlined above. And I know that the schools, which spoke so eloquently about the value they place on your work, will continue to support you as willing subscribers to your services.

MICHAEL GOVE

DfE enquiries