Specialist Schools

(Also known as Specialist Colleges)

Specialist schools focus on a particular subject or group of subjects as their area of excellence.  Currently 95% of secondary state schools in England are specialist. Specialist schools are called colleges; a specialist school’s title might be ‘G School, an Arts and Media College.’ Schools can specialise in teaching the Arts, Business and Enterprise, Engineering, the Humanities, Languages, Mathematics and Computing, Music, Science, Sports, vocational subjects or Technology. The most popular specialism that schools apply for is Technology. Successful specialist schools can have more than one specialism. Specialist schools have a particular focus on those subjects relating to their chosen specialism but must also meet National Curriculum require- ments and deliver a broad and balanced education to all students. Specialist schools can select 10% of their students according to their aptitude in the specialist areas, although the vast  majority do not exercise this option. Specialist schools received an additional government grant which meant they usually had more money to spend on students than non-specialist schools, although this is no longer the case. 

specialist schools

  • Overall achievement in exams and value added is generally higher in specialist schools than non-specialist schools.
  • Specialist schools should have exemplary teaching in their specialist area(s).
  • They are often popular with teachers whose subject is their specialism.
  • Specialist schools usually have better resources in their specialist area(s) than non-specialist neighbours. For example, expect to see excellent ICT provision in a technology college.
  • Specialist schools are required to have good links with neighbouring schools through their specialism(s). Therefore, specialist schools might help make transition easier between primary and secondary school.
  • Often specialist schools have good links with the local community, voluntary organisations, and local businesses through their specialism. This can enrich the curriculum and sometimes help to make students more outward looking.
  • Specialist schools should provide a greater variety of qualifications in their specialism than is available normally. This gives their students a better chance to pursue the specialist subject in different ways. For example, in an Arts and Media college, a student might follow an academic course in Media or a vocational course in Media editing.
  • If your child already has a subject preference, for example, enjoys Art far more than Science, it is worth investigating schools which have that specialism.
  • In reality, some specialisms make little difference in a school. It might be that when they first applied for specialist status they had strong teachers in one department who have now gone. Or it might be that they had students who were performing particularly well in one subject, who have now departed. As a parent then, it is important to check whether the specialism is established in practice or merely tokenistic.
  • If a specialist Arts College puts on a poor play or has weak student Art work on display, then this is a cause for concern. If a specialist Sports College has a lot of supply staff in their PE department then this is a cause for concern.

Further Information

School and college performance tables

The subjects within the specialism should out perform other subjects, or at least do well by comparison.


If you are considering a school with a specialism that relies heavily on extra-curricular events, for example, plays or concerts, contact the school, ask when the next performance is, and attend.

Open Evening/Visit

 The school’s resources in the specialism should be first class. The work on display for that specialism should be of an exceptionally high quality.

If you are interested in the specialism for your child, ask to speak to the Head of Specialism, who should inspire you with confidence.

School Publications

If the school is a technology college, then all school publications, for example, newsletters,websites and prospectus, should be of an excellent standard.


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