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US firm wants to run action zone

An American company that runs schools for profit wants to set up an education action zone in a deprived area on the edge of Manchester.

The Edison Project, which operates 25 American state schools on contract from local boards, has engaged the education director of the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs to co-ordinate its approach to the Government.

Dr James Tooley, research fellow at Manchester University, has assisted in drafting plans for a zone based on Stamford high, a 600-pupil comprehensive in Tameside.

The headteacher at Stamford, Sheila Clitheroe Tieszen, said the school had not gone beyond expressing interest, but any offer involving large-scale funding would have to be taken seriously.

According to Dr Tooley, there has not been time to complete a detailed bid, but a proposal has been submitted to the Department for Education and Employment.

"We would aim to be among the first to create an education zone forum. The company would spend a year on research and development and the zone might start operating with schools in September 1999."

"The status of teachers is too low, and the idea that education can remain the last of the cottage industries needs to be challenged," added Dr Tooley.

Benno Schmidt, a former president of Yale University and chairman of Edison, has been touring Britain in the past three months talking to schools and education officials.

In America, New York-based Edison has persuaded investors to provide $100 million (pound;62m) in start-up money for the schools it has taken over and the company appears to be talking about substantial investment in British schools. As well as Tameside, it has made approaches to schools and education officials in Surrey, Nottingham and Hackney.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, is keen to have at least one education action zone led by the private sector. He wants a scheme that puts forward innovative ideas for raising standards.

In the US, Edison schools have longer days and teachers are contracted out of union pay rates.

The DFEE said it had received 60 bids for education action zones.

edison's track record, page 5

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