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Action zones will pilot new ideas

Education action zones will be a test-bed for the public services of the next century, according to Stephen Byers, school standards minister.

Speaking during the committee stage of the Standards and Framework Bill, which establishes the zones, he said: "In terms of public service there is a third way.

"Education action zones can be the forerunner of ensuring a third way forward is developed for our education system, and that it is not done in a dogmatic way."

He said the zones will have different types of curriculum and pay and conditions for teachers, and those which work will be applied nationally. This would include a role for the private sector if it proved successful. The Government is planning to have similar action zones covering health services.

Each education zone will contain two or three secondaries and their feeder primaries and would be run by an education action forum - a partnership between local authorities, businesses and community groups.

Mr Byers said the zones are not just about failing schools. They would include schools which are coasting and could perform better.

The principle of the zones has cross-party support. Liberal Democrat spokesman Don Foster, and his colleague Phil Willis, attempted to strengthen the local authority's role in the setting up of a zone. Ministers refused to do so, however, saying they would expect local authorities to be involved in almost all cases.

* A Government plan for a statutory code of conduct for local education authorities in the Bill has been welcomed by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. He said that it was essential to avoid schools being put under unnecessary pressure.

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