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Second-born zones arrive

THIRTEEN education action zones were quietly born this week as the Government prepared to launch a second round of bidding.

The new zones represent the remainder of the first 25 announced six months ago. Twelve came into being in September.

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett will officially launch a zone in his Sheffield Brightside constituency next week. But the real interest is focused on a new round of bidding, set to be announced later this month.

Ministers are expected to demand more innovation and private-sector involvement - disappointing in the first round. Criteria for business investment are likely to be changed and parents and teachers could be given control of struggling schools.

Zones so far show mixed success. Some - Newham in east London among them - have blazed ahead with innovative programmes and a wide range of industry support. Others have struggled to find partners or have developed programmes that largely extend initiatives that were already in hand - albeit with ambitious targets for raising standards.

The lead time for the first 12 was so short that most have had a slow start. The Government's EAZ manual only came out after they started, and most have only just appointed project directors.

The new zones have had an extra term to prepare and John Botham, Sheffield's zone director, expects to "hit the deck running." Others though, such as Halifax in Calderdale, will not have managers in post until March and say schools may not notice much immediate difference.

Ian Harrison, chair of the national EAZ network and director of education in Newham, said that despite slow beginnings, zones were confident of success.

John Bangs, the National Union of Teachers' head of education who has analysed the zones' progress, said most impact had been felt where teachers had been given resources and encouragement to innovate. But in others, programmes were being imposed without consultation.

The new zones are: Birmingham Aston and Nechells; Birmingham Kitts GreenShard End; Brighton; East Basildon; Halifax; Kingston upon Hull; Thetford (Norfolk); Nottingham; Plymouth; Sheffield; South Tyneside; Southwark and Wigan.

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