Firms fight shy of leadership;Education Action Zones;News;News amp; Opinion

12th November 1999 at 00:00
The new wave of action zones announced by Labour this week has plenty of cash backing but lacks innovation, reports Nicolas Barnard.

BUSINESS is keen to pump money into education but does not want to run it, to judge by the new wave of education action zones created this week.

Two-thirds of the 41 zones established this week have already met their target of pound;250,000 in private backing - in cash or kind - for their first year.

With Government funding it will give them annual budgets of more than pound;1 million. Between them they have raised pound;10m-12m, according to Government sources.

But only two are even nominally led by businesses - Wythenshawe in Manchester, where Manchester Airport is taking a lead role, and Islington in north London, run by a private trust.

Ministers have also failed to find much enthusiasm for piloting performance related pay. Only Southend has responded to schools minister Estelle Morris's invitation to trailblaze the Government's Green Paper.

The new round of action zones was announced on Monday by Ms Morris in Telford, Shropshire, with muted fanfare - to the relief of existing zones who are pleased that the intense interest that accompanied their own creation has subsided. What was a Government flagship initiative 18 months ago has made way for newer projects such as Excellence in Cities.

The National Union of Teachers and the Conservatives both highlighted the lack of business-led zones and claimed the initiative had failed to produce innovation - a criticism that has dogged zones from the start.

Tory education spokeswoman Theresa May said: "This is yet another example of Labour saying one thing and doing another," while NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy said: "The 'imaginative proposals' identified by the DFEE are virtually all the types of things schools do as a normal part of their work."

But officials at the Department for Education and Employment report results rising in schools in the first 25 zones faster than the national average at both key stage 2 and GCSE (see opposite).

And they say they have been impressed by the proposals put forward by the second 41, half of which are led by schools.

Among them, the most striking is a virtual zone of 24 schools in Kent and Somerset which will use information technology to link teachers and pupils to exchange ideas and good practice. Heads are also working with computer manufacturers to find a way to provide a laptop for every pupil - some 12,000 in all.

But a senior DFEE official said: "It's pretty innovative in itself to get schools working together in groups of 20 in partnership. And don't underestimate the solid work that zones are doing on improving teaching and learning - it doesn't sound very glamorous, but things like making sure teachers are using the right techniques raise standards more quickly than anything else."

WHERE THE ACTION IS.

SOUTHEND.

Piloting Government's new performance management (appraisal) scheme thanks to link with zone sponsors Hay McBer, who are developing model for DFEE. Will begin in April, one term ahead of rest of England. "Nurture units" for problem infants to catch poor behaviour early -- pupils stay in school but are removed from class for extra help when needed.

Targets: 82 per cent-plus at level four in English and maths key stage 2 tests, 95 per cent of pupils to gain at least one GCSE, any grade. Raise staying-on rate by 10 per cent.

NORTH-EAST DERBYSHIRE.

COALFIELDS Without irony, creating Virgin Fast Trackers scheme for gifted pupils (regarded by DFEE as area that has not had enough attention). Extra work on basic skills.

In-school units for disaffected pupils. Opening video, radio and recording studios. "Coalfields Challenge" -- challenging projects for pupils to develop problem-solving.

Targets: raise GCSE and key stage test results to national average; 20 per cent improvement in staying-on rates at 16; reduce exclusion rates to below national average.

NORTH-WEST SHROPSHIRE.

Rural zone in depressed area on Welsh borders, dubbed the "north-west frontier" by teachers. Family learning centres will give community access to computers.

Buying minibuses so children in isolated villages can attend after-school, weekend, holiday activities. Mobile IT technicians for tiny rural primaries.

Virtual links to urban schools, museums, universities.

Targets: 16 per cent rise in 11-year-olds hitting national literacy targets; 10 per cent rise in same at secondary; 7 per cent rise in higher grade maths at GCSE.

KENT-SOMERSET VIRTUAL ZONE.

A surprising mix of hard technology and a touchy-feely focus on the child.

Plans include laptops for every pupil and video conferencing to swap good practice, but also the use of "emotional intelligence" tests to determine pupils' personal development needs. Geographical distance means schools can co-operate without fear of competition.

Targets: 3 per cent improvement above existing targets in key stage tests and GCSE; 3 per cent improvement in exclusion and attendance.

KENT-SOMERSET VIRTUAL ZONE.

A surprising mix of hard technology and a touchy-feely focus on the child.

Plans include laptops for every pupil and video conferencing to swap good practice, but also the use of "emotional intelligence" tests to determine pupils' personal development needs. Geographical distance means schools can co-operate without fear of competition.

Targets: 3 per cent improvement above existing targets in key stage tests and GCSE; 3per cent improvement in exclusion and attendance.

NEW EDUCATION ACTION ZONES ANNOUNCED THIS WEEK:.

NORTH-EAST: Easington and Seaham (Durham); Peterlee (Durham); Ashington (Northumberland); East Cleveland; North Stockton-on-Tees; Sunderland.

NORTH-WEST: Breightmet and Tonge (Bolton); Ellesmere Port (Cheshire); Barrow in-Furness; Preston; Dingle, Granby and Toxteth (Liverpool); Speke Garston (Liverpool); East Manchester; Wythenshawe (Manchester).

YORKSHIRE AND HUMBERSIDE:South Bradford; Withernsea and Southern Holderness (East Riding); South-east Sheffield; Wakefield.

WEST MIDLANDS: Coventry; Dudley; Wednesbury (Sandwell); North-west Shropshire; Stoke-on-Trent; Telford and Wrekin; Wolverhampton.

EAST MIDLANDS: Bedford; North-east Derbyshire Coalfields; Corby (Northants).

EAST: Clacton and Harwich; Southend.

LONDON: Hackney; North Islington; Lewisham.

SOUTH-EAST: Hastings and St Leonards (East Sussex); Leigh Park (Havant, Hants); Kent-Somerset virtual zone; North Gillingham (Medway); Slough (Berkshire).

SOUTH-WEST: Camborne, Poole and Redruth (Cornwall); Gloucester; Bridgwater (Somerset).

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