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History Specialist Schools


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On Friday I heard that our school’s application for specialist school status (leading in history) has been turned down by the DfES (Specialist Schools Designation Team - whoever they are). This has come as a complete shock and left me feeling angry, extremely disappointed and confused. On a personal level I feel like this is a real kick in the teeth after everything I have tried to do for the last 10 years. I also feel that this is an example of how subject specialism and the history education community is under-valued despite the great work that is going on at the moment. Number crunchers and SMART target setters seem to rule the world! Sorry to trouble you all with this but I do not really know what to do next. I have written a letter and any suggestions about how to follow this up would be gratefully received. Do you know of anyone I should contact? Are other history departments having a similar experience? I am completely fed up with this kind of crass decision making and want to take this matter further. Any ideas welcome!

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I can understand your frustration. Personally, I have always been against the idea of specialist schools. In the town where I used to teach there were only two comprehensive schools. They both had similar exam results. However, one was turned into a specialist school. This completely undermined the efforts of the non-specialist school in the town. Over the next couple of years it became most parents second choice. In fact, it became an old secondary modern school. It exam results suffered whereas the specialist school leaped ahead. Eventually the government realised its mistake and allowed both schools to obtain specialist status.

I suspect you are not a victim of prejudice against history specialist schools. I imagine they have turned you down so local specialist schools can improve their record against yours. Once they have overtaken you they will be willing for you to become a specialist school.

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Lots of schools get their application knocked back the first time of asking. My school was rejected for its application (Business and Enterprise) the first time of asking. Like you, we were a little miffed as to the reasons why. You should get some decent feedback about why they've refused you though. Take that feedback to people like Jacequiline Anthony at the specialist schools trust and see what suggestions they have for a resubmittal. Likewise the HA are looking at ways of supporting schools that want to have History as the lead subject.

Given your work on raising attainment in history I suspect that the History element of the bid wasn't the reason you were rejected.

The schools that I know of that were rejected the first time of asking seemed to have a few things in comon (in terms of the things they needed to address).

- Community links. Lots of links with local oganisations through the fundraising but a general weakness in terms of liaison with partner schools and community groups in the area. Ways around it? Use funding to send specialists into feeder schools for 1/2 day a week; fund research projects for staff in your own insitution and in neighbouring secondary schools; invite local groups (local history groups, HA meetings etc... to have free / cheap access to your facilities out of hours; run workshops for parents / community groups on areas identified as being a weakness in the locality.

- 14-19 provision and progression. Extended curriculum provision based on humanities - alternative courses etc, perhaps a Leisure and tourism course with a hertage focus as a vocational alternative to the traditional curriculum. Work experience opportunities and placements in heritage industry.

At SHP next week, grab Jacqueline Anthony and ask for her advice. Also have a chat with eople like Alf Wilkinson and the QCA rep. The TTA are worth talking to as well, they might be able to provide you with some ideas that will benefit your school & dept no matter what the specialism - but it would also help you to get the specialism. if you ant contact details for these people before the SHP conference drop me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with them.

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