Frontier spirits rise at prospect of zone funds

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
THE North-west Frontier is how schools around the Shropshire border town of Oswestry have dubbed themselves, so far from the metropolis do they feel.

"It's the forgotten part of England," says Rhyn Park Secondary school head Janet Warwick who, with other heads in the area, is bidding to join the second wave of education action zones.

Farming is depressed thanks to BSE, the old industries of mining and the railways have gone and it's now the fourth lowest-paid constituency in the country.

A battery of statistics backs the argument that children's development is hampered: it's a 90-mile round trip to a professional theatre, 130 to a major museum or symphony hall, 78 to a university and 100 miles for a 50-metre swimming pool.

Pupils from 37 villages cannot get home if they miss the school bus.

Many start primary with below-average attainment, and teachers say that the pupils are less "streetwise" than city children. University drop-out rates are high.

Information technology inevitably plays a part in the bid, linking teachers but also giving pupils the contacts they miss: virtual links with an urban zone, with universities and with museums are planned.

Part of the bid is about filling in the gaps: four mobile IT technicians, especially for the tinier primaries; minibuses so pupils can get home from after-school activities; counselling for disaffected teenagers to ameliorate the effect of county youth service cuts.

The three secondaries each specialise in the arts, sports and technology, and the zone would pool that expertise with pupils travelling for extra lessons.

But Mrs Warwick says it is not just about spending money to provide the services the county otherwise could not.

She says: "I'm hoping we will be coming up with a model that we can discuss with the local authority, and a better way of using very scarce resources."

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