THE Government is putting business investment in schools at risk by insisting that education action zones be inspected by the Office for Standards in Education.
Financial backers of zones have objected to the draft plan to start inspections in September and their reservations are being raised privately with ministers.
Mark Pattison, chair of the local education authorities' action zone network, said having OFSTED inspections ran counter to the original aim that the scheme should encourage new ways of raising school standards in under-achieving areas.
One zone leader said: "We were led to believe zones would be fairly autonomous and innovative, but we are now being incorporated in a national programme of school improvement."
Under the draft plan, the first zone to be inspected will be Blackburn with Darwen, where Mr Pattison is education director.
Shell Services, which is providing pound;50,000 a year pls other services to the zone in the London borough of Lambeth, believes the plan amounts to over-inspection.
Clive Mather, the company's chief executive, said: "With four external evaluations by the Department for Education and Employment and the Office for Standards in Education already this year, we wonder how much more is needed."
Business partners also reportedly have doubts about whether OFSTED has the capacity to assess if zones are fulfilling their remit to provide alternative ways of dealing with social inclusion and low standards.
Most of the 72 zones have raised large sums from sponsors to qualify for government funds.
A spokesman for OFSTED said the zones were being inspected against the aims and objectives they had set themselves. He pointed out that zones got substantial amounts of public money.
Comments on the draft zone inspection plan have been requested by September 11.