State zooms in on deprived zones

Jane Marshall


Prime minister Lionel Jospin has promised extra funds to combat underachievement.

The Government aims to revitalise its scheme to help children living in deprived districts known as the education priority zones.

The plan is to increase rewards for effective teachers, reform the curriculum to focus on basic subjects and encourage parents to send their children to nursery school at a younger age.

Schools minister Segol ne Royal said the extra money would be forthcoming because the zone policy was one of prime minister Lionel Jospin's priorities.

The zones, which were introduced in 1982, run counter to the French republican tradition of equality for all by positively discriminating in favour of the most educationally-deprived children.

They are determined by such factors as the local unemployment rate, parents' qualifications and type of work, numbers on income support and the proportion of immigrant families. Altogether they cover about 10 per cent of pupils.

The 531 zones are mostly in urban areas and contain 5,300 primary schools and 805 secondaries - predominantly coll ges (lower secondaries) where the greatest problems lie. There are 178 "sensitive" schools which are not actually in a zone.

The minister intends to make "zones" into a "network"and extend the number of schools. Her proposals are based on the recommendations of a year-long inquiry carried out by ministry of education inspectors.

Mme Royal said it was important to recognise the quality of staff in zone schools. Though they already receive extra pay, she thought there was a case for further privileges such as improved promotion prospects or sabbaticals.

Measures will also be introduced to improve contact between the school, families and the social environment. "We must fill the gap between the child's school life and family life," said Mme Royal. "The school is not separate from its surroundings; it must take more into account the problems faced by children outside school."

Another priority will be adjusting the curriculum in zone coll ges to concentrate on the basics; not only the three Rs but also foreign languages and civics.

Mme Royal also wants parents living in the zones to be encouraged to send their children to school younger than is usual.

Action was needed to prevent the zones becoming ghettos, said Mme Royal. She proposed to set up partnerships between rural schools and overcrowded city coll ges.

As well as providing for the above measures, the 1998 education budget will include money for an extra 1,320 zone employees including school nurses, social workers and educational counsellors. There will also be cash to improve school libraries and for school meals for the poorest families.

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