Big push for next zone bids

15th January 1999 at 00:00
Ministers pull out all the stops to attract teachers, parents and businesses, reports Nicolas Barnard.

PARENTS, teachers and businesses are to get huge support from ministers to encourage them to run education action zones.

Ministers will underline their desire to see action zones take over from failing local education authorities, with a heavy emphasis on community and private proposals as they launch the second round of bidding today.

A telephone hotline, a pool of 20 educational experts running "advice clinics", and a series of regional conferences will back up a major campaign to attract bids from beyond the LEAs which dominated the first round of zones.

Zones will get only pound;500,000 of their annual pound;750,000 Government funds automatically. To get the remainder, the amount will have to be matched pound for poundby private investment - unlike the first 25 zones.

The Government was disappointed by the lack of business involvement in the first zones. Some struggled to get their pound;250,000 private funding and businesses play only a peripheral role in many.

The TES revealed in December that ministers want more bids from outside local authorities, and education secretary David Blunkett will confirm today: "I particularly want to see applications from schools partnered with parent and community groups, and with businesses."

He will add: "In a few cases, zones might help to provide a solution where a local authority is not delivering a high enough standard of service."

Mr Blunkett will demand "even more interesting and innovative plans".

And although schools are encouraged to lead bids, he will urge the action forums which run zones to be more interventionist. Many so far have made a point of schools retaining their autonomy.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is putting his personal stamp on the launch, joining Mr Blunkett at a secondary school in Blackburn, one of the first zones.

Defenders of LEAs say they saved the first round of zones - they are involved in all 25 and lead all but a handful.

This time, bidders have an additional month - until April 16 - and those shortlisted will get a pound;20,000 grant. The zones will start between January and September 2000, giving up to a year's extra lead-in.

Newspaper advertisements inviting bids appear tomorrow - the second week running that the Department for Education and Employment has used the Saturday press this way. Last weekend it invited private tenders to support failing authorities.

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