Burnt Mill Academy is a specialist performing Arts College in Essex, England.
Burnt Mill Academy is a specialist performing Arts College in Essex, England.

In the United Kingdom a specialist school, also called a specialist college, is a type of school or sixth form, usually a secondary school,[a] that specialises in a certain field of curriculum.[6][7][8][9] Specialist schools may receive additional funding from sponsors and/or the government to a varying degree.[b] These funds are then used to expand the provision and facilities of selected specialist subject areas, known as "specialisms". Three of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom have – or have had – specialist schools, with the one exception being Wales.[12][13][14]

Specialist schools in England without academy status must follow the National Curriculum.[15] In this case, specialisms are seen as adding value to the existing statutory provision rather than being a radical departure from it.[1] Specialist status is available to all state schools, including grammars, academies, free schools and comprehensives.[16][17][18][19] Some independent schools in England and Scotland are currently specialists.[20][21]


See also: Specialist schools programme and SSAT (The Schools Network)

Specialist schools were introduced in 1988 through the discontinued English CTC programme.[22] They were then expanded through the nationwide specialist schools programme, a government initiative where state schools were encouraged to raise private sponsorships in order to specialise in subject areas of their choice.[23] Since the programme's discontinuation in April 2011, state schools in England have gained specialist status freely through academisation or through funding via the Dedicated Schools Grant. Permission to receive this funding and therefore specialist status is now based on meeting benchmark requirements set by the Department for Education (DfE).[24] In Northern Ireland, the programme was introduced in 2006 and discontinued in August 2011. A replacement model was envisioned but the DENI could not afford the required funding.[12][25] Scotland entered the programme in 2005 through the Schools of Ambition initiative, leaving in 2010.[13][26]

Early years (1986–1997)

In January 1986, a Centre for Policy Studies meeting was held in the House of Lords. The meeting was organised by Cyril Taylor and focused on the growing issue of unemployment amongst the youth. Among the attendees were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State for Employment David Young and 60 other business leaders and politicians. It was decided that around 100 schools would be funded to specialise in technology via direct grants to fulfil business qualifications. The resulting City Technology Colleges (CTC) programme was announced at that year's Conservative Party Conference by Secretary of State for Education and Science Kenneth Baker.[22] The following year, the City Technology Colleges Trust, made to oversee the establishment of CTCs, was established. It was chaired by Cyril Taylor.[27] CTC schools were then introduced a year later through the Education Reform Act 1988, specialising in science and technology-based subjects.[28] CTCs operated in the state school apparatus but were granted independence from the local education authorities (LEAs), instead being controlled and funded by sponsors and the central government. The original target for schools with CTC status was 200, but this soon proved to be impossible. A total of 15 CTCs were established before the programme's discontinuation.[29]

Upon discontinuation in 1993, the Major government announced a replacement Technology College programme, thus beginning the specialist schools programme. Continuing the restrictions on LEA control, this programme was originally exclusively offered to voluntary aided and grant-maintained schools. Schools wishing to be designated as a specialist Technology College had to apply through a raised private sponsorship bid of £100,000. If accepted, schools with specialist status were then allocated a fund equivalent to the money raised that would be spent towards their specialism over a three-year period (later four), re-designating after this period had expired.[22][30] The required amount of money raised decreased to £50,000 some years later, however the funding received (£100,000) stayed the same. The programme launched in 1994 and applications were extended to LEA schools under the direction of then education secretary, Gillian Shepherd. This led to much of Labour, who initially opposed the programme, to lend their support. Shepherd planned to introduce a MFL specialism, beginning designations in 1995. These were the specialist Language Colleges and a year later, in 1996, Sports and Arts Colleges were announced and, after that, introduced in 1997.[30] By the end of 1996, 182 schools were designated specialists, with the majority being Technology Colleges. In light of this, the City Technology Colleges Trust was renamed to the Technology Colleges Trust (it oversaw and delivered the programme). Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust and successive adviser to multiple education secretaries, convinced Labour leader Tony Blair to support specialist schools.[31]

Under New Labour (1997–2010)

Following the 1997 general election, the Conservative government stepped down and was replaced by a Labour one.[32][33] Secretary of State for Education Gillian Shepherd was replaced by David Blunkett.[34] Blunkett was a supporter of the specialist schools programme and brought it to the mainstream. In 2000, Blunkett announced the launch of the city academies programme (later the academies programme). Academies were required to specialise and re-designate through free government funding, choosing whatever subject specialism they desired.[35] By 2001, 700 schools had specialist status and a further 1300 were part of the Technology Colleges Trust's affiliation scheme.[22] That same year new education secretary, Estelle Morris, published the education white paper Schools Achieving Success. This white paper outlined plans to introduce more specialisms and to expand the amount of specialist schools to 50% of English secondaries by 2005.[36] In 2002 the Technology Colleges Trust was renamed yet again, this time to the Specialist Schools Trust (SST). This was done to reflect the rising popularity of specialist status and to represent the increased specialisms available (there were now eight).[37] By January 2004, 54% of English secondaries were specialists, rising to 75% by the 2005/2006 academic year.[38] The programme was introduced to Scotland and Northern Ireland in both of these years and, by 2011, there were 44 specialist schools in Northern Ireland.[13][12][25] In 2007, the programme was introduced to primary schools, with 34 schools receiving specialist status.[1][2]


"It is because specialism is now so firmly rooted in our schools that we’ve decided that it’s the right time to give schools greater freedom to make use of the opportunities offered by specialism and the associated funding. And just so that we’re all clear, we’ve not removed the funding – all of that money will continue to go to schools – but we have removed all the strings attached to it so that schools have the freedom to spend it on, and buy in, the services they want and need without central prescription. And while this will naturally also remove the need for schools to re-designate, I hope that the SSAT, and in particular the National Head Teacher Steering Group, will continue to provide a loud and influential voice on behalf of all of its membership."

—Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb, on the new funding arrangements for specialist schools.

In 2010 Labour left government and were replaced by the Cameron-Clegg coalition.[39][40] The new education secretary, Michael Gove, announced that specialist school funding from the specialist schools programme would be mainstreamed from April 2011. This meant that schools would now have to receive funds for specialisms through the Dedicated Schools Grant and no longer had to designate or re-designate for specialist status. Specialist status is now instead granted based on meeting benchmarks set by the DfE. This effectively rendered the specialist schools programme defunct. The requirement for academies to have specialisms, of which all 203 open academies had at the time, were abolished.[24][41] Despite this, academies are still able to freely select and fund specialisms. The Specialist Schools Trust (now called the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) was also stripped of government support and no longer had control over specialist designations, therefore rendering it obsolete. At around the same time, the Scottish and Northern Irish variants of the programme were discontinued.[26][25] By this time, around 96.6% of secondary schools in England were specialists, with exactly 80 remaining unspecialised.[14] In February 2011 the Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb, said this was why the funding was mainstreamed, alongside a government venture for more school autonomy.[42]

One of the primary policies of then Prime Minister David Cameron was the continued expansion of the academies programme,[43] which had begun under the previous Brown ministry.[44] Three new specialist free schools were introduced as part of this expansion; the studio school, maths school and the university technical college.[45][46][47][48][49] The government have also designated some independent schools in England and Scotland as specialist music and dance schools.[50][51] Specialist football schools have also been introduced.[21]

Types of specialist schools

Specialist schools programme

Main article: Specialist schools programme

The specialist schools programme introduced 12 types of specialist schools, with an additional curricular "rural dimension" option.[52][53][54] They were categorised between "academic specialisms" and "practical specialisms".[55] Although the specialist schools programme is now defunct, English schools can still become one of these specialist colleges through either academisation or the Dedicated Schools Grant. Some of these specialist schools were granted the ability by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to admit 10% of their intake by academic aptitude, making them partially selective.[56][57][58] Schools in the programme took part in the "community dimension", forming connections with nearby local schools and the community.[22]

The programme was introduced to Scotland in 2005 and Northern Ireland in 2006,[13][12] discontinuing in 2010 and 2011 respectively.[26][25] Some Northern Irish schools have since retained specialist status.[59][60][61]

St Malachy's College in Belfast was one of the first Northern Irish specialist Music Colleges.
St Malachy's College in Belfast was one of the first Northern Irish specialist Music Colleges.
Year introduced Specialist Specialisms Academic or practical? Partially selective?
1994 Technology College Design technology, mathematics, science Practical No (2008 onwards)
1995 Language College Modern foreign languages Academic Yes
1997 Arts College Performing arts, visual arts, media arts, digital arts Practical Yes
1997 Sports College Physical education, sports, dance Practical Yes
2002 Science College Science, mathematics Academic No
2002 Business and Enterprise College (BEC) Business, enterprise Practical No
2002 Engineering College Engineering Practical No
2002 Mathematics and Computing College Computing, ICT, mathematics Academic No
2004 Humanities College Humanities Academic No
2004 Music College Music Academic Yes
2006 Special Specialism/SEN College Special education Not categorised No
2006 Vocational/Applied Learning College Vocational education Not categorised No

High performing specialist status

Main article: High performing specialist schools programme

Some schools that demonstrated that they were achieving significantly higher results than other schools were invited to apply to be designated as high performing specialist schools. This typically allowed the school to apply for a further specialism, which brought with it additional funding so that the school could develop that further specialism.[62] Some 900 schools (30% of specialist schools) have achieved this status.[63]

Academies programme

Main articles: Studio school, Maths school, and University technical college

The English academies programme introduced three new specialist schools; the studio school, the maths school and the university technical college (UTC). All three schools are a type of free school, which in itself is a type of academy. Studio schools typically serve around 300 14 to 19-year-old students regardless of academic aptitude and operate with a unique year-round 9 to 5 school day, meant to emulate work.[47] Furthermore, studio schools combine academic studies and vocational education, specialising in a multitude of subject fields including gaming and marine industries. Studio schools appear to inherit the specialist schools programme's extended provision, with studio schools' specialisms usually coinciding with industries of significance in their local areas. Studio schools are usually sponsored by a diverse range of companies such as Disney, Sony, Hilton Hotels, Amazon and National Express.[64]

UTCs also serve students from the age of 14, albeit rarely enrolling from Key Stage 3.[65] All UTCs are controlled by university sponsors and specialise in at least one technical field that is connected to a "local industry partner". UTCs focus on a mixed technical and academic curriculum and are meant to progress their students into the technical work sector.[66] There are seven main UTC specialisms; engineering, digital technology, design, creative media, science, health and construction.[67]

Maths schools, as the name suggests, specialise in mathematics. They are the first exclusively sixth form specialist schools, serving students between the ages of 16 and 19. They, like UTCs, are sponsored by universities. These universities are those that are noted for being "selective mathematics universities".[68] Maths schools admit students on a selective basis, with an 8 grade in GCSE maths being the minimum requirement.[69] They are meant to prepare students for entry into their corresponding sponsor universities.[49] They were announced in 2011 by the Cameron-Clegg coalition, being introduced in 2014. Although there are plans for more to be introduced from 2022, there are currently only three maths schools; King’s College London Mathematics School, University of Liverpool Maths School and Exeter Mathematics School.[4]

Normal academies are free to choose their specialisms,[24] with some selecting unique specialisms such as Wren Academy's design and built environment specialism.[17] This privilege is extended to free schools, with many being opened with the purpose of offering a location another subject specialism.[70] This includes primary free schools, such as Ramsgate Arts Primary School, which has specialist status in the arts.[71] Unique academy specialisms were dismissed by Cyril Taylor as "just weird". Taylor instead preferred "mainstream specialisations", further adding that academies should "Teach kids some basic hard academic subjects, learn to be a health worker later on!"[72]

From 2020, some free schools have been opened with specialist Maths or Science College status under education secretary Gavin Williamson's COVID-19 recovery plan.[18] From 2022, specialist sixth form free schools are set to open in 55 locations designated by the government as "Education Investment Areas".[5] They will primarily serve disadvantaged children.[73]

The precursor to academies, City Technology Colleges, specialised in technology-based subjects, mostly science and technology.[28] City Technology Colleges were the first specialist schools and were introduced in 1988.[22] They acted as a foundation for the wider specialist schools programme.[55]

Music and dance schools

St Mary's Music School is located in Edinburgh, Scotland.
St Mary's Music School is located in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The government's Music and Dance Scheme designates nine independent boarding schools throughout England and Scotland as specialist music and dance schools.[50][51][74] These schools provide A-Levels and Highers and also offer day places.[75] The nine specialist schools are:

Football schools

The UK Football Schools initiative provides specialist football education. The initiative consists of football boarding schools, football academies and football universities. Some specialist football boarding schools are private and some specialist football universities are international, with additional provision in Europe.[21] The boarding schools offer free five day trials known as "football trial camps". All schools and universities within the initiative are funded by and partnered with UK Football Schools Limited, a private limited company headquartered in Redruth, Cornwall.[76][77]


Since 2008 multiple English schools have adopted a specialism in the four STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).[78][79][80][81] A rarer specialism in the five STEAM subjects has also been adopted by schools.[82][83][84] A new specialism called STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and mathematics) has recently been introduced.[85] These specialist schools offer these subjects into the sixth form and provide a unique curriculum throughout the school day, offering subjects such as coding and robotics.[86]

Common features

Although there are many different types of specialist school, most share some common features. Specialist schools share a common purpose of acting as centres of excellence.[87] For example, maths schools are expected to be centres of excellence in teaching A-Level mathematics[88] and specialist schools introduced by the specialist schools programme and Music and Dance Scheme are centres of excellence in their designated specialisms.[89][90] Specialist schools may also receive additional funding in order to facilitate their status or specialism, with maths schools receiving £350,000 every year,[11] specialist schools from the specialist schools programme formerly receiving £100,000 every four years[10] and music and dance schools receiving additional funds through the Music and Dance Scheme.[91]

Support and praise


Specialist schools have been introduced under the following prime ministers. From left to right: Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Nick Clegg (deputy) and David Cameron.[c]
Specialist schools have been introduced under the following prime ministers. From left to right: Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Nick Clegg (deputy) and David Cameron.[c]

The CTC programme was supported and announced by education secretary Kenneth Baker. Although most major companies and businessmen saw no reason to support the programme, sponsors were found in people like Lord Harris (later the sponsor of the Harris Federation), Harry Djanogly, Stanley Kalms and Michael Ashcroft. The City Technology Colleges Trust led by Cyril Taylor also sponsored, oversaw and delivered the programme.[22] Taylor was the main supporter of specialist schools, often being regarded as their pioneer.[92][93][94] The supporters within the government were Chris Patten, Tony Kerpel, Alistair Burt, George Walden, Bob Dunn and Virginia Bottomley. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her chief policy adviser, Brian Griffiths, also offered their guidance and feedback on the programme. Thatcher's main motivation for this was her opposition to the LEAs and her vision to move schools out of their control. Griffiths often compared them to Soviet republics, bringing this comparison to anti-communist Thatcher:[29]

"Prime Minister, we have a system of local authorities in Britain. They own the schools, they plan for the schools, they control everything that happens within the schools, they fix the compensation of everyone who is employed in schools, they decide on new schools and closing old schools. This is like a bunch of Soviet republics; we have in Britain effectively a bunch of Soviet republics, and the whole thing needs to be opened up."

In July 1991, the new Prime Minister John Major praised CTCs for "meeting head-on a demand for technical education, which as a country we have neglected for a century past." He also announced plans to "remove the technical and legal obstacles that stand in the way of those voluntary-aided schools that wish to become City Technology Colleges." Major further praised CTCs for their claimed parental accountability, saying they offered "high standards of work, attendance and aspiration."[95]

In 1994, following the Education Act 1993, widespread school specialisation was introduced, beginning the specialist schools programme.[96] John Major announced the introduction of specialist Sports Colleges two years later, citing them as a solution to the lack of weekly two hour PE provision in half of schools.[97] By 1997, when Labour entered government, new education secretary David Blunkett and Prime Minister Tony Blair both supported school specialisation.[22][98][31] In a July 2000 session of parliament, Maidenhead MP Theresa May enquired Blunkett on whether he accepted specialist school statistics, noting that the amount of student A to C grade GCSE results improved by only two thirds of that in non-specialists. Blunkett accepted the negative statistics, using them as a reason why more specialist schools needed to be designated.[99] A year later, the new education secretary Estelle Morris published the education paper Schools Achieving Success. The expansion of the specialist schools programme was one of the primary agendas of the white paper.[36] At around the same time, Tony Blair's spokesman Alastair Campbell proclaimed that the "days of the bog-standard comprehensive" were over.[100] Blair wanted the comprehensive system in England to be replaced by a "diversified" specialist school system[14] and it was found in September of that year that specialist schools performed 10% higher than non-specialists in exam results.[101]

In 2002, Professor David Jesson began researching specialist schools. His research concluded with an emphasis of achievement brought by specialists and the approval of government policy to expand them.[102] Jesson would be employed by the Specialist Schools Trust in 2003, continuing research and releasing reports on specialist schools annually until 2013. Jesson's reports often concluded that specialist schools resulted in better student outcomes.[103] It was found that non-selective specialist schools achieved significantly higher results at GCSE results than non-specialist comprehensive schools, that they achieved higher "added value" when prior achievement was taken into account, and that the gains had increased with the length of time the school had been specialist.[104][105] Other studies found that specialist schools performed slightly better at GCSE, particularly benefitting more able pupils and narrowing the gap between boys and girls.[106][107][108][109]

In 2004, education secretary Charles Clarke stated that the government wanted all schools to be specialist. He also praised specialist schools as a mass movement raising standards and improving student outcomes.[110]

In 2005, education watchdog Ofsted made their second evaluation of specialist schools, making the following summary:[111]

"Being a specialist school makes a difference. Working to declared targets, dynamic leadership by key players, a renewed sense of purpose, the willingness to be a pathfinder, targeted use of funding and being part of an optimistic network of like-minded schools all contribute to an impetus and climate for improvement."

The Chief Inspector of Schools in England, David Bell, praised better teaching, performance and sense of purpose in specialist schools when compared to their unspecialised counterparts. Local schools close to specialists also benefited. Minister for School Standards Stephen Twigg hailed the evaluation, saying it "underlined the fact that specialist status drives up standards."[112]

In 2009, Kenneth Baker (announcer of the CTCs) and Ronald Dearing conceptualised the UTC. They established the Baker Dearing Educational Trust for its promotion and development, being granted the right to the UTC trademark and brand. The trademark and brand are licensed by the trust to the UTCs and it has a significant say in the UTC sub-programme of the academies programme.[113] The first UTC was established in September 2010[114] with a further 58 UTCs following in subsequent years.[115] Studio schools were also introduced in 2010.[116] At first they were supported by the Studio Schools Trust but after the trust closed it was replaced by the Studio Schools Network.[117] These two specialist schools were introduced under David Cameron and Nick Clegg's 2010 coalition government as part of the expansion of the academies programme.[118] Michael Gove, the education secretary who introduced these specialists, praised studio schools as benefitting "both business and young people".[119]

In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced her intention for every British city to have a maths school as part of an attempt to encourage technical education after Brexit. A budget of £170 million was allocated for this purpose.[120] She called the King’s College London Mathematics School "brilliant" and a "great example of a free school".[121] In 2019, King's claimed that all of its students received an A or A* grade in A-level mathematics, with 90% of these being A*. Over a quarter of the school's students were said to have successfully applied to Oxbridge in that year.[122]


The devolved Scottish Labour-Lib Dem government introduced specialist schools in 2005 through the Schools of Ambition programme. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) gave their support for the programme and showed enthusiasm for helping the schools involved. However, COSLA spokesman Ewan Aitken warned that cooperation would only be provided if no "strings" were attached.[13]

Opposition and criticism


The CTC programme faced opposition from members of both the Labour and Conservative Parties and also by LEAs and teaching unions. Media coverage for the programme was largely antagonistic, with CTCs being accused of expanding academic selection (despite being non-selective) and privatising education. Increasing opposition meant that only 15 CTCs could be established, despite an original goal of 200. This led to the creation of the Technology College and the specialist schools programme in 1994. Opposition was still rampant, especially in Labour until later that year, when LEA schools were granted the ability to apply to the programme.[22]

In 2001, wealth segregation in the education system was researched by Professor Stephen Gorard of Cardiff University. Specialist schools were found to have admitted less people from a poorer background, however Gorard was unable to confirm if the increase of specialist schools linked to greater segregation. It was also found that former church and grant-maintained schools with specialist status were more strongly segregated than those that were not. Gorard made his findings by using free school meals as an indicator of poverty.[123] General secretary of teachers union NASUWT, Nigel de Gruchy, welcomed increased school funding but was "deeply disappointed" that it was favouring specialist schools, accusing it of being discriminatory. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of NUT, claimed that specialist schools were creating a two-tier education system and that they did nothing to fix the problems of increasing teacher shortages and low morale. He blamed the better results specialists produced on their extra funding and partial selection. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, warned that unless the extra funding allocated to specialist schools were given to all secondary schools a two-tier education system may very well be created.[123]

In 2002, it was reported that many headteachers were finding it difficult to raise the required sponsorship for specialist designation.[124]

In 2003, the Commons Education Select Committee requested that ministers withdraw specialist schools' extra funding if standards remained low in partnered comprehensives schools. It was claimed that this funding, alongside the partial selection entitled to some specialist schools, created inequality between them and their unspecialised counterparts. Specialist schools were claimed to have created a hierarchy of schools and Lib Dem MP Paul Holmes said every headteacher he had spoken to in private had only applied their schools to the programme for "the extra money".[125] Ofsted confirmed that a fifth of schools specialised for this reason.[37] Some specialists were also found illegally admitting their intakes by misinterpreting the 10% aptitude rule in their entitled partial selection.[58] Two years later, NASUWT president Peter McLoughlin warned that specialist schools were limiting choice for parents in a speech where he claimed "Most parents cannot exercise choice in relation to the schools their children attend. The expansion of one school will lead to the closure of a less popular school, many of which are in deprived areas, depriving whole communities. You will have a kind of beauty contest between schools." McLoughlin also warned of the supposed two-tier system being created by specialist schools and academies.[126]

In 2007, it was found that specialist schools were performing nearly the same as non-specialists. There was only a small 1.5% increase in GCSE results for specialist schools with an exception of Sports Colleges, which were found to perform 0.5% worse than non-specialists.[127] Furthermore, Chief Inspector of Schools in England Christine Gilbert stated that specialist status was not guaranteed to improve standards in teaching. She requested that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) discuss the impact of the specialist schools programme since "If teaching had not improved, it's hard to see that learning would."[128]

Since 2016, UTCs have largely been considered to be failing. In 2016, one in ten UTCs had closed or converted into non-UTC secondary schools. The amount of pupils attending UTCs have decreased by 40% in those that were established between 2010 and 2013.[129] One in five UTCs have been given an inadequate Ofsted grade and 40% require improvement. Furthermore, over half of the overall students attending UTCs have dropped out and students that are still attending perform worse than those at non-UTC secondary schools.[130] A mere 50% of these students pass GCSE maths and English.[131] The DfE have spent £792 million on UTCs.[132] Michael Gove, the education secretary who introduced UTCs, also called them a failure.[133][134] A similar fate has befallen studio schools.[135] Toby Young, a vocal advocate of free schools, believes that these schools fail because of their comprehensive character, which leads to them being "dumping grounds" for undesirable students who may be underperforming or misbehaved. Young has proposed making UTCs and studio schools selective to solve this issue.[136]

In 2022, the government announced plans to establish "elite" specialist sixth form free schools for talented disadvantaged children. Opposition and scepticism has already formed around these sixth forms and people have called for the government to instead increase funds for further education as a whole.[137][138]


Schools of Ambition faced opposition in Scotland from its announcement.[13] The Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish Socialist Party and Scottish Conservatives opposed the plan because of its selective and insufficient nature. SNP education spokesman Fiona Hyslop feared that it would only benefit a few school children and accused the education secretary Peter Peacock of playing "catch-up". Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservative education spokesman, James Douglas-Hamilton, believed it was insufficient and did nothing to address the alleged two-tier system in Scottish state education.[139] Then, a year after its implementation, Scottish Labour announced plans to expand the Schools of Ambition initiative by creating six new "Science Academies". Science Academies were to be separate from Science Colleges, specialising in physics, chemistry and biology for Highers and Advanced Highers. The Scottish Lib Dems opposed the plans despite being in coalition with Labour, with party chairman Iain Smith fearing a "backdoor" introduction of academic selection. Science Academies were also opposed by some in the Scottish Science Advisory Council.[140]

In 2008, a year after the new SNP government was elected, it was announced by Fiona Hyslop (who was now education secretary) that Schools of Ambition would be discontinued in 2010.[26] Scotland continues to have no academies or free schools, therefore meaning that specialist schools continue to be absent from state education.[141]


In 1999, government in Wales was devolved.[142] As a result, the Welsh Government maintained its own independent education policy. Part of this policy was the strict defence of the "community, comprehensive model".[143] This resulted in fierce opposition to specialist schools and academies and, in 2011, 99.5% of Welsh schools were comprehensive.[14] Minister for Education and Skills Leighton Andrews is claimed to have privately considered Welsh academisation but this never came to fruition.[144]

Higher education

In British higher education, a specialist institution is a higher education institution which offers courses based around one specific specialism. Most specialist institutions are small vocational universities, offering postgraduate and undergraduate education.[145] Funding for specialist institutions is determined by the Office for Students under the oversight of the Secretary of State for Education.[146] There are currently 16 specialist institutions in the UK and their specialisms range from performing and visual arts, medical, veterinarian, humanities and business, and science and technology. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable praised specialist institutions as part of his vision of a "new generation of National Colleges: specialised institutions, acting as national centres of expertise, in key areas of the economy. They will be employer-focused, and combine academic knowledge with practical application."[147]

In Wales, the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama is a specialist music and drama conservatoire.[148] It is the national conservatoire of Wales and is granted royal patronage by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.[149][150]

See also


  1. ^ Although there are non-secondary specialist schools, the overwhelming majority are secondary. There are at least 34 specialist primary schools[1][2] and three specialist sixth forms, with 66 more aimed to be opened from 2022.[3][4][5]
  2. ^ Different types of specialist schools receive different amounts of funding. Specialist schools introduced by the specialist schools programme usually received £100,000 every four years.[10] Whereas specialist maths schools introduced by the academies programme currently receive £350,000 a year.[11]
  3. ^ This does not include Margaret Thatcher and her deputy Geoffrey Howe who presided when the first CTCs were introduced, nor does it include deputy prime ministers John Prescott and Michael Heseltine who presided over the specialist schools programme.


This article contains OGL licensed text This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence: Department for Education and Nick Gibb: Nick Gibb to the SSAT National Conference

  1. ^ a b c Specialist schools: A briefing paper for section 5 inspections. Office for Standards in Education. Archived from the original on 29 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Primary schools are to specialise". 22 June 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  3. ^ "Chancellor pledges specialist maths school in every English region". The Guardian. 11 March 2020. Retrieved 11 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b "Do maths schools have proof of concept yet?". schoolsweek.co.uk. 13 October 2020. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Move to improve education outcomes latest part of levelling-up plans". The Guardian. 1 February 2022. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  6. ^ Smith, Alexandra (9 February 2007). "Q&A: Specialist schools". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 December 2021.
  7. ^ "Plans for specialist school UTC Reading unveiled". BBC News. 5 September 2012. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  8. ^ "DfE invites top universities to open specialist maths free schools | New Schools Network". www.newschoolsnetwork.org. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  9. ^ "Multi-million pound specialist college given the go-ahead". Warrington Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  10. ^ a b "Specialist Schools". www.politics.co.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ a b "DfE invites top universities to open specialist maths free schools". www.newschoolsnetwork.org. Retrieved 11 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ a b c d "NI specialist schools announced". 14 March 2006. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Specialist schools plan go-ahead". 23 February 2005. Retrieved 26 December 2021.
  14. ^ a b c d "What became of the bog-standard comprehensive?". The Guardian. 15 February 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Types of school". childlawadvice.org.uk. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  16. ^ "Overview of the school | Mayfield Grammar School Gravesend". www.mgsg.kent.sch.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  17. ^ a b "Specialism - Welcome to Wren Secondary Academy". secondary.wrenacademy.org. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  18. ^ a b "More than 50 new free schools to open at start of new school term". FE News. 26 August 2020. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  19. ^ "About Us - Barking Abbey School". www.barkingabbeyschool.co.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ "Specialist Music School | Wells Cathedral School". Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  21. ^ a b c "UK FOOTBALL SCHOOLS - UK Football Schools - find the best UK boarding schools, Academy programmes and University courses for football". ukfootballschools.com. Retrieved 26 December 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i "A history of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust" (PDF). Retrieved 7 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ Noden, Philip; Schagen, Ian (1 September 2006). "The Specialist Schools Programme: golden goose or conjuring trick?". Oxford Review of Education. 32 (4): 431–448. doi:10.1080/03054980600884110. ISSN 0305-4985. S2CID 145260452.
  24. ^ a b c "Specialist schools programme: Michael Gove announces changes". GOV.UK. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  25. ^ a b c d "Specialist Schools - Department of Education, Northern Ireland". 23 April 2012. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
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