Highfields School gets performing arts status

HIGHFIELDS School in Matlock has acquired specialist status following the latest round of Government announcements.

The project will see the school's performing arts facilities used in and out of school hours by pupils and community groups.

Students will also work on joint arts initiatives with pupils from a Derby school.

A gym on the Starkholmes site will be converted for use as a flexible sport and performing arts room. The school recently opened a new performing arts block at its other site in Upper Lumsdale.

Performing arts co-ordinator Rob Francis said: "It is a very good thing because it will give another very important element to the school.

"It doesn't become a theatre school. The basic curriculum stays the same. We hope to use these elements to enliven the curriculum in other areas as well."

Highfields plan to use the extra funds to buy modern music equipment and pay for new staff and visiting theatre groups, and intend to work with the community on future educational projects.

Mr Francis said: "The challenge for us is that we have to meet certain targets in terms of raising achievements."

Schools that gain the status receive a one-off capital grant from the government of 100,000 and 123 annually per pupil. The funding is provided for an initial four-year period.

All schools involved have to raise 50,000 themselves before they gain specialist status.

Before today's announcement 29 other secondary schools had specialist status in the county, including Anthony Gell at Wirksworth, for sport.

Specialist schools are expected to use about a third of their extra income to share their specialist expertise with partner schools.

The Government points to performance figures for 2004 showing that 57.4 per cent of pupils in specialist schools achieved five or more grades A to C at GCSE , equivalent to 48.2 per cent of pupils in non-specialist schools.

However critics argue this is a result of extra money and socio-economic factors, as schools in well-off areas find it easier to raise sponsorship.

by Tim Cunningham