British policy-makers may not admit it, but the fashion for action zones is not confined to these borders, reports David Budge.
A CULTURAL ocean separates England from France, but both countries have remarkably similar strategies for raising standards in deprived areas.
We have education action zones (EAZs). They have zones d'education prioritaires (ZEPs).
They dusted off and relaunched their zone-based policy in 1998. And so, in a sense, did we as our fast-growing EAZs were pre-dated by the ill-fated education priority areas set up in the late 1960s.
ZEPs and EAZs also share common priorities: literacy development, home-school relations, after-school activities, individual pupil support and inter-agency partnership. But, to date, the British Government has been strangely loath to acknowledge the EAZ's Gallic twin.
Richard Hatcher, a researcher at the University of Central England, who has conducted a comparative study of the two strategies, does not understand our Government's diffidence.
"Perhaps the explanation lies in the perceived strategic advantage of ignoring previous education reform," he told the European Conference on Educational Research in Edinburgh.
But it may also be because the English and French zones are more different than they first appear.
The 66 EAZs - which generally include two secondary schools and their feeder primaries - receive an extra pound;750,000 a year from the Government, provided they raise a further pound;250,000 from the private sector.
The French government does not ask its 865 zones to seek private funding. It pays teachers extra for working in ZEPs (about FF600 or pound;55 a month) and it also spends more on each pupil.
Whereas per-pupil spending in EAZs is roughly 5 per cent above average, in ZEPs it is 10 per cent higher. The French justify the extra outlay with a memorable phrase - donner plus a ceux qui ont moins (give more to those who have less).
The ZEP programme is also more radical than its English equivalent, according to Hatcher and his co-researcher, Dominique Leblond of Universite Paris XII.
"It represents a fundamental break with the republican tradition of the previous 100 years of French education. In this tradition the functions of the school, to create the future citizens of the republic and to provide equality of opportunity ... were to be achieved through uniform universal provision ensured by tight centralised control ... There was no place for a recognition of localism."
The EAZ, by contrast, represents a substantial extension of central government power. The Department for Education and Employment steers the zone from a distance through its control ove the contracts on which the zone is based. And its representative on the the zone's governing body, the action forum, has the power to veto decisions.
Hatcher and Leblond say it is too early to tell which of the two strategies will make a bigger impact. But the ZEPs can claim some limited success.
"One in three ZEPs has achieved some reduction in social inequalities in schooling despite widening inequality in French society. But two out of three have not, and in one in five educational inequality has increased."
The British Government will be hoping for a better balance-sheet than that. But given the chequered performance of programmes of this kind it would be foolhardy to make bullish predictions.
Contact: Dr Richard Hatcher, Faculty of Education, University of Central England, Westbourne Road, Birmingham B15 3TN. E-mail:
WHY PLATO BACKED THE 11-PLUS... THE BEST EERA CONFERENCE QUOTES
"Chief Perry Bellegarde (a Canadian Native Elder) spoke of education as 'today's buffalo'. He explained with Elder wisdom: in the past each and every part of the buffalo was used - education for natives must similarly be pursued and used by each and all."
Michael Kompf, Brock University, Ontario
"The civil servants who shaped the thinking of the Ministry of Education (on the grammar-technical-secondary modern division of secondary education in the immediate post-war years) derived their authority from classical philosophy. They referred habitually to the divisions of humanity established by Socrates, in Plato's Republic.
'You are all of you in this land brothers,' he wants to tell the citizens of his imagined society. But when God fashioned you, he added gold in the composition of those who are qualified to be Rulers; he put silver in the Auxiliaries, and iron and bronze in the farmers and the rest."
Ken Jones, University of Keele
"Race equality is seen by some within the Office for Standards in Education as an added extra, rather than as a central feature of maintaining high educational standards.
One of the OFSTED senior management team told us: 'We have often used the expression here about hanging baubles on the Christmas tree until the thing topples over.'
He implied that race equality was one such bauble."
Audrey Osler and Marlene Morrison, University of Leicester
"Educational theory, as it is given in teacher training and universities all over the world today, is to a large extent based on the traditions established more than 200 years back by middle-aged men deeply rooted in an academic, Christian tradition."
Yngve Nordkvelle, Lillehammer College, Norway