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Integrated services praised

Children at an educational disadvantage have been helped most by integrated schemes which involve the social services and have sustained funding, according to an international report.

Estelle Morris, education junior minister, has agreed to take part in a project run by London University's Institute of Education this autumn which will bring together education officers and social services. The event will build on research by Peter Evans of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. His report looks at how OECD countries are helping children at risk.

The British Government will be introducing its own scheme in the forthcoming White Paper. The Blairite model proposes bodies with representatives from local authorities, businesses and schools who will work together in areas designated as education action zones. Lottery and Millennium Fund money will be available for homework clubs. The best heads and teachers will be encouraged to work in the zones.

Pilot action zones will be set up this year.

Dr Evans, who works in the OECD's Centre for Research and Innovation, said: "The education action zones should not be too school focused. Mr Blunkett should also look at family links and involve social services.

"We also found that it was most important to convince children why they need to learn. This can be achieved by good links with industry and allowing them access to meaningful work experience. There is no point in making them do more homework if they can't see the point of it in the first place."

With the election of Lionel Jospin in France, education zones, known as ZEPs, are expecting a new lease of life (see story below).

In the Netherlands this August an extra Pounds 100 million will be distributed to local government to reduce class size (from average of 26) and to hire extra staff so disadvantaged pupils receive more attention.

Local government will designate problem areas and schools will have more freedom to spend money to provide a "customised" education meeting specific needs. For many years a child from an ethnic background with problems has received twice the average funding.

The ill-fated Educational Priority Area initiative championed by the Plowden Committee in the late 1960s attracted modest funding from the Department of Education and Science, the Social Science Research Council and some local authorities. But more recent schemes in Britain were funded by the single regeneration budget (SRB).

The SRB was worth Pounds 1.35 billion in 199596 and will eventually be reformed by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. Consortia of local authorities and businesses were invited to bid for funds for their projects.

A British Urban Regeneration Association conference in September will look at the challenge of increasing education and employment opportunities in urban areas and will study examples of projects in inner-city schools to improve literacy, combat truancy and stop bullying.

Services integration for children and youth at risk, OECD, Paris.

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