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
So the great experiment is underway. By January, 140,000 pupils will be taught in action zones - one schoolchild in every 50 in England.
The first 25 Education Action Zones were announced on Tuesday with 12 to become operational in September and the rest at the start of next year.
Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett claimed, perhaps rashly, the idea of zones as his own at the launch in Sanctuary Buildings. But it was his right-hand man, Stephen Byers, who spelt out most bluntly the significance of England's first zones.
"Let no one underestimate the importance of this initiative," the school standards minister told journalists. "Education action zones are the test bed for the education system of the 21st-century. Radical innovation is not just allowed but will be expected.
"Education action zones represent a fundamental challenge to the education status quo, a real threat to those vested interests that have for too long held back our school system."
With pound;1 million per year to spend and most of the statutory restrictions that bind schools - national curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions - removed, the zones are expected to generate innovative ideas which will spread throughout the education system.
Each zone will have around 20 schools - typically two or three secondaries and their feeder primaries - and be run by a forum of partner bodies such as schools, councils, businesses, churches, plus one other: a representative of the Secretary of State.
School governors can cede their powers to the forum, which will have the power to appoint day-to-day managers.
The big carrot is the cash - pound;750,000 from the Government plus pound;250,000 to be raised by each zone from private sources. That has allowed local authorities in particular to expand dramatically programmes they may already have been developing.
The private money can be partly or all "in kind". Blackburn with Darwen Council, for example, says it expects most business contributions to its local authority-led zone to be in the form of manpower and resources.
The Government's contribution has already trebled - originally each zone was to get just pound;500,000, split 5050 between public and private funds.
See Business Links supplement
BLACKBURN WITH DARWEN
22 schools in south Blackburn and Darwen.
Innovations: specialist teachers; extended school day; residential courses for 10 to 14-year-olds; new lessons in "citizenship".
Targets: 75% of 11-year-olds to achieve expected levels in English and maths; 40% of 16-year-olds to get five good GCSEs and 93% at least one GCSE:exclusions to be cut by 50%.
Partners include: Blackburn College, Blackburn Partnership, Blackburn Rovers PLC; Blackburn with Darwen LEA; Church of England; Communicare Health Trust; ICI, Gromathic UK Ltd; Lancashire Constabulary. BARNSLEY
21 schools in north and east Barnsley.
Innovations: Smart card system to chart pupil progress; more access to Internet; specialist teachers; interactive homework service; co-operation between schools and health and social services.
Targets: GCSE pass rates above LEA targets; halve number of 16-year-olds getting no GCSEs; better attendance rates; every pupil to have e-mail address and link to National Grid for Learning.
Partners include: British Telecom, Nord Anglia, Barnsley and Doncaster TEC, Bull Information Systems.
SALFORD AND TRAFFORD
18 schools straddling the two boroughs.
Innovations: Cyber cafes and zone-wide computer "web"; sharing business expertise to improve teachers' management skills; specialist teachers; new lessons for pupils over 14.
Targets: 74% of 11-year-olds to achieve expected levels in English and maths; 40% of pupils to get five good GCSEs; raise staying-on rate at 16 to 95%.
Partners include: Barclays Bank; Colgate Palmolive; John Laing Construction; Kelloggs; Salford City Council; Trafford Council; Manchester TEC.
22 schools in city and area towards Black Mountains.
Innovations: extended school day; more work-related learning for 14-plus pupils; sports college in one secondary school.
Targets: 20% boost for proportion of seven, 11 and 14-year-olds achieving expected levels in English and maths; 60% of children to enter further education; attendance of 90% or more in all schools.
Partners include: British Telecom; Hereford and Worcester Chamber of Commerce and Training; Herefordshire LEA; Tesco; Kington Connect; Prince's Trust.
23 schools in Weston-super-Mare.
Innovations: no exclusions; extend school day and holiday schemes; Internet access and networked computer facilities for all schools; laptop-loan scheme for learning at home.
Targets: 15% boost in achievement for seven, 11 and 14-year-olds; 95% of pupils to achieve at least one GCSE; boost school attendance to 95%; increase parental participation by 10%.
Partners include: McDonald's; Nord Anglia PLC; NSPCC; West College; North Somerset LEA.
23 schools in South and West Leicester.
Innovations: Specialist teachers; improved management skills for teachers; more precise resource allocation; support teams for special needs pupils; longer school hours.
Targets: Better attendance rates, less truancy; every school-leaver to go into work, education or training; improved literacy results; 25% increase in good GCSEs for 16-year-olds.
Partners include: Leicester City Football Club, Leicester Chamber of Commerce, The Philharmonia Orchestra, Prince's Trust.
9 schools in New Addington Innovations: Specialist teachers; fast-track IT learning; longer school hours, with breakfast and after-school clubs and summer school; possible four or five-term year; businesses advising on management and providing placements.
Targets: Numbers of 11-year-olds gaining expected targets for English, maths and science within top 5% of similar schools; 31% of 16-year-olds to get five good GCSEs; boost attendance rates to 94%; halve exclusions; improve numbers going to FE; Partners include: Croydon Health Authority, Croydon Local Authority, Edexcel, John Ruskin College, South London TEC.
19 schools in west Newcastle.
Innovations: one-stop-shop for health and family support in schools; extended school day; work-related curriculum for post-14 pupils.
Targets: 12% increase in 16-year-olds with five good GCSEs; 3% better attendance rates each year.
Partners include: Newcastle LEA; Newcastle United PLC; Newcastle College; Northumbria and Newcastle Universities; Tyneside TEC; The Pacific Institute.
18 schools in east Middlesbrough.
Innovations: Alter national curriculum to focus on work skills; extended school day with homework clubs; literacy and numeracy summer schools; specialist teachers; Study Support Centres at Middlesbrough FC; business mentors.
Targets: 65% of 11-year-olds to achieve literacy and numeracy targets by 2001; a fifth of 16-year-olds to get five good GCSE passes; 7% reduction in those gaining no GCSEs.
Partners include: Middlesbrough FC, University of Teesside, Diocese of Middlesbrough, Future Steps LTD, South Tees Employment Service. GRIMSBY
17 schools in Grimsby Innovations: "Open School" TV programmes taking the classroom into children's homes; "virtual classroom" via the Internet; daily literacy and numeracy lessons.
Targets: 5% boost in target for 11-year-olds reaching expected levels in English and maths; 10% improvement in average GCSE scores; 90% attendance in secondary schools and 95% in primary; 10% increase in post-16 study.
Partners include: IBEC, North East Lincs LEA; UKENSA; World Challenge Expeditions.
27 schools in North and Central Lambeth.
Innovations: Breakfast and after-school clubs; visits and residential courses for all pupils; family literacy promoted; Duke of Edinburgh or Youth Award schemes.
Targets: 80% of 11-year-olds to reach national standard in English by 2001, with 75% doing same for maths; all pupils to learn IT skills; better attendance and punctuality; targets for citizenship and employability awards; less reliance on supply teachers.
Partners include: IBM, ICL, Metropolitan Police, National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall.
19 schools in Canning Town, North Woolwich and West Ham.
Innovations: Saturday schools; specialist teachers; new lessons for children over 14; "restructuring leadership" in schools; minimum standards for quality of teachers.
Targets: more than 70% of 11-year-olds achieving expected levels in English and maths; 95% of pupils getting at least one GCSE; 93% attendance for primary schools and 91% for secondary; 60% of pupils staying on after 16.
Partners include: Arthur Andersen; British Telecom; Bull (Worldwide Information Systems); Capita Business Services; Newham LEA; Prince's Trust, Tate and Lyle; Time Plan.