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Specialist Schools funding announced

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, today announced that a further 10 schools will be designated as Specialist Schools from September 2009 bringing the total number of Specialist Schools to 44.

Following the assessment by the independent panel, ten schools were assessed as meeting in full the criteria required for specialist school designation. Six of these had specialisms in STEM-related areas (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

The Minister said: “I wish to congratulate the 10 schools on their success. I know they have had an anxious wait for this announcement while I considered how best to deal with the advice I received from the Independent Panel in the context of a very difficult financial climate. This has been a challenging task but I have taken account of the many letters I have received from across the education sector in support of the work of these schools and I am pleased to say that a workable solution has been arrived at, but it is not without impact on these schools.”

The Minister went on to say that the continuation of the programme was only achievable by greatly reducing the additional resources and timescale of designation for these 10 schools.

She said: “I met with these schools to outline my new proposals which include a reduction in the support grant from £75,000 to £25,000 and a shortened period of designation of two years rather than four years. Such is the commitment of these schools that, without exception, they accepted the revised conditions for designation. They all recognised that, in a difficult financial context, we have to work harder to deliver quality education to our young people and signalled their readiness to do this."

In her budget announcement in March 2009 the Minister had indicated that, due to financial pressures, the Specialist Schools Programme for 2009 would be severely curtailed, with immediate funding only being available via the Innovation Fund for a limited number of schools with specialisms in science, technology and mathematics.

The Minister made clear though that, in recognition of the work that schools had put into their applications and the important contribution of specialist schools in promoting collaboration and widening the opportunities for young people and promoting school improvement, she would look for options to reduce the impact of this difficult decision. She therefore asked the Panel to assess all applications to enable designation should the resources become available. The Minister has indicated her appreciation for the work the Panel has undertaken and for the advice it has provided.

The Minister also indicated that this was a good opportunity to review the current programme and until this review has been completed, there would be no further designation under the specialist programme. As a result, all existing specialist schools will end their designation in August 2011. She indicated that she would draw on the evidence and experiences from the existing specialist schools to develop a more inclusive model with a sharper focus on:

  • raising standards;
  • tackling the barriers to learning that too many of our young people face;
  • sharing and learning from one another: and
  • ensuring that the voice of pupils is sought and listened to in schools.

In conclusion she said: “I will be writing to all existing specialist schools to outline my plans for the development of a new model. My department will engage widely, but particularly with those schools in the programme, as I am keen that we involve schools in the work to shape a new model. I would hope that a new model could be developed and information disseminated well in advance of August 2011 when the existing programme will end."

Notes to Editors:

1. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office Tel: 028 9127 9755. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

2. The schools announced today as suitable for designation as specialist schools in September 2009 are:

St Louis Grammar (Kilkeel) - Technology - STEM

Antrim Grammar – Maths and Computing – STEM

Victoria College – Science – STEM

Rainey Endowed – Maths – STEM

St Patrick’s Academy – Science – STEM

St Mary’s High School (Newry) – Maths – STEM

Assumption Grammar – Music – Non STEM

St Dominic’s High School – Humanities – Non STEM

St Ciaran’s College (Ballygawley) – Business & Enterprise – Non STEM

St Patrick’s College (Bearnageeha) – Humanities – Non STEM

3. Applications were received from 20 schools by the 28 February 2009 deadline. A summary of the applications and details of existing Specialist schools is available at

4. Each school was required to submit the following:

  • A four-year School Development Plan (SDP).
  • A four-year Community Development Plan (CDP) that involves developing partnerships with at least five partner schools.
  • Evidence of how a school intends to raise at least £25,000 of unconditional private sector sponsorship.
  • A bid for a one-off recurrent support grant and an outline of how this would be used.

5. However due to financial constraints Cohort 4 Schools will now be designated for a period of two years from September 2009 and will receive £100 per pupil in each of the two years to support equally the implementation of the school and community development plans and up to £25,000 support grant to add to the £25,000 sponsorship raised to enhance provision in the specialist area.

6. The six STEM Specialist Schools have been funded from resources available under the Executive’s Innovation Fund and the remaining four Non-STEM Schools have been funded from within the existing DE budget following a reprioritisation exercise. All schools have been funded at a reduced level and for a shorter period than originally envisaged.

7. A review of the programme will also have consequences for all existing specialist schools.

  • Cohort 1 will have the opportunity to apply for an extension of their designation for one year subject to the school demonstrating that there has been improvement since their designation began in September 2006;
  • Cohort 2 will be designated for a further two years as planned: and
  • Cohort 3 will have their designation reduced by one year.

This will result in all 44 specialist schools reaching the end of their designation period at the same time in August 2011.

8. The Minister plans to review the existing programme with a view to building on the many strengths of the programme, particularly in the context of raising standards and tackling educational underachievement.

9. An Independent Panel, chaired by Dr Tom Hesketh (Director of the Regional Training Unit), was established to consider the applications and put advice to the Department on those schools that fully meet the criteria as outlined in the associated guidance. List of panel members is attached in Annex 4. The assessment of the applications was rigorous and a final list of 10 schools, each meeting the criteria, was drawn up and subsequently submitted to the Department for consideration.

10. Those schools that have been unsuccessful in this application round will be offered the opportunity to receive detailed feedback from the Chairperson of the Panel.