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Oxford first in action zones round two

OXFORDSHIRE has become the first authority to win approval in the second round of education action zones. Ministers will announce next month that the zone is to be launched in September.

Taking in 17 schools on the edge of Oxford, and including the troubled Blackbird Leys estate, the bid has been put forward by the county council and the Hamilton Trust, a longstanding supporter of educational projects in Oxfordshire.

The trust will provide the private-sector finance, which means the zone should qualify for full matched funding from the Department for Education and Employment, giving it an annual budget of pound;1 million.

One other successful bid is also likely to be named, out of the 47 shortlisted in May by the DFEE. Detailed proposals for around 40 other bids are now being scrutinised by officials following last Friday's deadline for their delivery. A further half-dozen have won an extension until the autumn. The DFEE says all 47 could be approved if they meet the relevant criteria.

The second round of zones was not expected to start up until January 2000 at the earliest. But two have been approved quickly because their preparations are so far advanced. In Oxfordshire, a project director has already been appointed.

The bid hit the headlines in February when it was revealed that the National Union of Teachers was negotiating with Oxfordshire to become a lead partner. That move was dropped when union members in the county complained they had not been consulted.

Nicolas Barnard

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