After the 1944 Education Act, which promised free secondary education for all, there were mainly two types of school: the grammar schools and the secondary modern schools.
Birmingham, more fortunate than many, had a raft of other specialist schools: there were two technical schools (in Bordesley Green and Handsworth) which took boys at 13 after an entrance exam, to study either building or engineering, finding them apprenticeships in local firms when they left at 16.
There were specialist art schools (Moseley School of Art) and commercial schools (in Aston and Sparkhill), which were also entered by means of an entrance test, as were the grammar schools.
Secondary modern schools catered for those children who went to no sort of specialist school.
Then, in the 1970s, came the shift to comprehensive education, when all schools were rebranded as comprehensive and no entrance exams were set, apart from for the few grammar schools which still held on by their fingernails in a few places in the country.
By 2000, however, the wheel seemed to have come full circle, with comprehensive schools being seen as giving poor value for money and turning out such a large number of illiterate and undereducated pupils that public opinion demanded change.
Thus came into being the new flagship of excellence, the "specialist school". These schools specialised in all manner of things, from performing arts, technology, sport, arts, mathematics. Anything, it seems, that looks good on the signboard outside the school, (but not being allowed to specialise, of course, in the general academic curriculum of the old grammar schools).
Naturally, selection was not to be allowed for these specialist schools. The Government favoured selection by aptitude, but was too afraid of its own left-wing MPs and the teachers' unions to do more than suggest the arbitrary figure of ten per cent for selection, and it stuck to this figure in spite of vociferous campaigns from left-wingers, still lost in their 1960s Marxist fog.
As it happens, the left-wingers needn't have worried, for children still tend to go to their local comprehensive school and many are not even aware that it purports to offer some specialism.
Given that most children at specialist schools don't even know their school has a specialism, let alone what this specialism is, it is entirely unsurprising that Ofsted declare themselves "disappointed" that the pass rates in many of the schools' special subjects are low.
What do they expect? Chris Woodhead, ex-Ofsted chief, hit the nail firmly on the head when he pointed out that the new specialist schools were simply a cynical attempt by a Labour Government to juggle the need to get away from the discredited "bog-standard" comprehensive school, in which one size fits nobody, without condoning the old left-wing bogeyman of selection by aptitude in any form.
In other words, it was a useless, politically-motivated fudge, a way of pretending that they were doing something to replace failing schools and a failed ideology, but without alienating the very people who had orchestrated the failure in the first place.
Of course, given the fact that a school cannot apply for specialist status until it has raised £50,000 of finance from the local community, it may also be a way of getting more finance into schools without the Government having to pay.
So, it seems that the success that Ofsted boasts of in these schools might just be no more than an exercise in semantics and a bit of new funding.