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Where are business bids for the zones?;Education action zones

Ministers have 47 names on the shortlist but nowhere to pilot performance-related pay. Nicolas Barnard reports

EDUCATION action zones could treble in number by September 2000 after the Department for Education and Employment shortlisted 47 bids in the second round.

All will be given pound;20,000 to work up their outline bids into full proposals by July 23, and if ministers are satisfied with their efforts all could be approved, the DFEE said this week.

But ministers' hopes of seeing education action zones pilot their controversial plans for performance-related pay look to have been dashed - again.

Analysis of the bids by the National Union of Teachers suggests few have been prepared to offer to pilot the recent Green Paper's proposals, despite exhortations from school standards minister Estelle Morris when she launched the second round.

Her predecessor, Stephen Byers, made a similar call without success for zones to trailblaze a new pay and conditions contract as he launched the first round.

Those that will adopt parts of the Green Paper have concentrated on teachers' continuing professional development.

Businesses play a larger role this time - thanks partly to a change in the rules which means that zones only get their full pound;750,000 governmnet grant if business provides pound;250,000. The DFEE is still unable to describe more than three bids as "business-led".

One, in Oxfordshire, is a partnership between the local authority and the Hamilton Trust, a long-time sponsor of education in the county. Ironically it was this bid that the NUT was negotiating to join, but withdraw after protests by members.

A second is in Manchester's Wythenshaw, led by Manchester Airport, but originating with the estate's schools. The third is the North Islington bid, put together by the family trust of Research Machines founder Michael Fischer.

Twenty bids are led by schools and the rest - roughly half the 47 - are led by a "mix of partners, including education authorities".

The NUT, which is opposed to zones in principle, said it was pleased local authorities were continuing to play a large part.

"The idea that private business was going to be leading zones has simply not been fulfilled," the union's general secretary Doug McAvoy said.

"The worrying message, though, is that there's a big gap between the DFEE's guidance -which says that teachers should be brought on board - and local authorities' notions of consultation which still seem to mean talking to the chair of governors and the head, who then informs the teachers it's going to happen," he said.


KENT AND Somerset schools will be linked in the first virtual education action zone - or, in their words, a "chain of schools".

New technology will connect six schools in the South-west to 14 in Kent. Unusually for a zone, they include nine secondaries, three of them technology colleges. The proposal argues that collaboration and sharing of good practice will be easier because the schools are not in local competition.

Like supermarket chains, they want to ensure consistent quality wherever the product is bought. Ideas piloted in one school would spread across the group.

This second round of action zones has seen a broader range of bids, with several from the rural fringes of England addressing particular problems caused by unemployment and isolation.

They include bids from Shropshire for an area around Oswestry on the Welsh border; Camborne, Poole and Redruth in Cornwall; and Withernsea and southern Holderness in the east Riding of Yorkshire.

Five London boroughs lodged successful bids, including Hackney, which has as a partner its neighbouring authority, the City of London. It approached the City because of its access to major employers and financial institutions.

Islington, Westminster, Lewisham and Greenwich also won approval - Greenwich's bid will use fibre-optic technology to beam masterclasses between their schools and into the learning zone of the Millennium Dome.

Manchester's bids - one based around the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the other led by Manchester Airport - were shortlisted, as were two from Liverpool and bids from Sheffield, Bradford, Coventry and Bristol.

Smaller towns and satellite estates are also represented, including the run-down Leigh Park estate on the edge of Portsmouth, where schools three years ago formed a co-operative partnership to raise standards.


IF THE first round of education action zones was marked by a shortage of decent bids, the second has proved successful enough for ministers to reject some that "on the face of it" met their desire for innovation and business input.

Two bids involving the Centre for British Teachers - one of only two firms to take a lead role in the first zones - both failed.

One, in Swindon, would have been a rarity first-time round: a business-led bid. It was proposed by the town's Aiming High partnership of businesses and community groups which includes EMI, Motorola and Nationwide building society. EMI's senior manufacturing director was a named contact for the bid.

The second, led by five successful grant-maintained technology colleges, proposed a "virtual" zone in Essex, Bromley and Bexley. The five schools came together through an information technology network set up by American software giant Cisco. Each would partner a struggling secondary and a feeder primary school.

Its proposers admitted most schools failed the Department for Education and Employment's deprivation criterion, but believed it would offer "research and development" benefits. All five struggling comprehensives were to apply for specialist college status within the zone's lifetime.

A south-west bid was similarly evangelical. It would have seen a beacon school, Torquay boys' GM grammar, link with a failing comprehensive and its primaries to spread good practice.

Its head, Roy Pike, believes local authorities have outlived their purpose. He had hoped the zone would give partner schools the independence he had gained under GM - and will now lose under foundation status.

Ministers had encouraged pilots of the Green Paper's performance-related pay plans. One of the few bids to respond - from Hammersmith and Fulham - was among the rejected.

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