Real source of business-led hopes

This week the Government launched its 'fundamental challenge to the education status quo'. So far businesses have not produced the hoped-for radical ideas. Nicolas Barnard, Frances Rafferty and Geraldine Hackett report

WHERE did the tale about ministers' desire for at least one business-led education action zone come from?

In separate interviews this week both David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, and his standards minister, Stephen Byers, blamed an anonymous civil servant. On Channel Four News, Mr Blunkett said expectations about business-led zones had been raised by statements made by a civil servant. Mr Byers made the same claim in an interview on Newsnight.

The official they meant was Professor Michael Barber, the political adviser appointed by Mr Blunkett to raise standards.

In January Professor Barber told local authorities at the North of England education conference that the Government intended to encourage businesses to run zones.

The extent to which he was expounding a policy which did not have ministerial approval is unclear. The next day, Mr Byers told conference that local authorities had no God-given right to run schools.

The guidelines sent out to local authorities the same week were perfectly clear. The letter signed by Sandy Adamson, the career civil servant who manages the standards and effectiveness unit in the DFEE, said ministers wanted applications for different types of zones. It said: "They (ministers) would also like to support one zone in the first five which is led and run by business; and several like this in the programme of 25 zones." This chimed with last July's explanatory note introduced by Mr Blunkett.

In the event, none of the 25 zones can be described as business-led and run. But can that be blamed on an anonymous civil servant?

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