Action zones will test the ground;Blair's vision;Opinion

the Third Way in education means drawing a line between central and local government, on the one hand, and a totally free market, on the other: between old local authority control mechanisms and the grant-maintained school experiment, says David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. The education action zones, he adds, are clearly a test bed for the Third Way.

"The Government has not made any secret of the fact that the education action zones are supposed to produce as many innovative ideas as possible with a view to demonstrating whether schools can in the future experiment with the national curriculum, or opt out of the teachers pay and conditions document, or become involved in a range of initiatives both within and outside of the timetabled week in a way which enables those schools to take charge of their own destiny.

"So I regard it as the Government's way of trying to deliver on the promise that there will be maximum delegation of responsibility to schools and maximum accountability by schools for the results of that delegation.

"We do, as an association, have reservations about certain aspects of them, but in principle the Third Way is the right way forward. I think it places responsibility and accountability where it should lie.

"Subject to the Government's right to legislate and make policy and subject to the local authorities' role as monitors of the performance of schools within their own territory, I think that schools should be given the maximum budgets that they need in order to discharge that responsibility and then they will be clearly be accountable for the results.

"The Third Way really is an attempt to say we are never going to go back to the nanny state, either at national or local government level. Neither are we going to allow schools to operate in a totally free market because they are spending a substantial amount of taxpayers' money and we, the Government, are entitled to expect them to be accountable not only for the expenditure of that money but also for the results that their pupils obtain, because those results will largely determine the country's economic future and the future of the society that we want to live in."

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