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Zone bids take off in year two

Around 100 applications are expected for EAZs this year. Nicolas Barnard reports

MANCHESTER Airport, a parents' group from Devon and a technology millionaire operating in Tony Blair's old backyard are among bidders for the second round of education action zones.

Around 100 bids were expected as today's deadline approached - including at least one pledging to pilot the Green Paper's controversial plans for performance-related pay.

The Government appears to have attracted the kind of ground-breaking proposals it failed to bring in for last year's first round. Local authorities are still involved in most bids, businesses, educational foundations and schools will take the lead in many.

Two are in Manchester - one school-led bid based around the Commonwealth Games to be held in 2002, the other led by Manchester Airport. Another is in Tony Blair's former home borough of Islington and involves Michael Fischer, president of the country's leading educational software company, Research Machines.

A bid by Hammersmith and Fulham council would see key elements of the Green Paper piloted in a secondary school. Teachers would have pay linked to performance, including an assessment of pupil progress - the plan that has seen united opposition from classroom unions.

Parents made up as many as a quarter of the early callers. One, from the Devon Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations, still needs major work and a second was said to be at a "sensitive stage". But parent-led bids were so rare, they were urged by the advice service to submit anyway.

Other groups found it hard to develop the network of schools that would allow them to bid - the complaint of business in the first round, when bidders had only two months to work up proposals.

Ministers were disappointed at the narrow range of the first round of zones - local authorities led 23 of the 25, two in partnership with business; another two were school-led. This time, less than two-thirds are expected to be LEA-led.

Officials will now select the 50 most promising proposals and give each up to pound;20,000 to work up detailed plans by July 23. Zones will be announced in autumn and start between January and September 2000.


EAST Manchester schools ring the site of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, while Wythenshawe schools border the city airport. Both plan to take advantage of their neighbours.

The airport is a brilliant learning resource with everything from catering to hi-tech engineering, says Barry Morrison, head of Newall Green high school. The airport is leading the bid, but dozens of the 200 firms based there could be involved.

Proposals include further education scholarships to boost staying-on rates, work placements, a new "enterprise GCSE" to be developed by Manchester University and an "innovation hub" of creative teachers and businesses.

East Manchester's ideas include a "virtual Commonwealth Games", using video-conferencing for a live high-jump competition for pupils around the world.

Wright Robinson school, given sports college status last month, expects to have competitors at the real thing. The bid, covering 17 schools, unashamedly capitalises on the opportunities, expectations - and jobs - the games will bring. Stadium developer Amec is the zone's sponsor.

ISLINGTON, Tony Blair's old home, looks likely to pioneer his Third Way, writes Geraldine Hackett. A bid covering a third of its schools comes from the family trust set up by Research Machines' co-founder Michael Fischer, in partnership with the London authority's education service.

The Prime Minister's office will have a direct insight through Andrew Adonis, Number 10's education adviser. He became a governor of George Orwell school, one of three secondaries in the zone, as part of Fresh Start proposals which will see it become an arts and media college in September.

The trust will lead the zone and be the major sponsor. The emphasis will be on literacy and numeracy at the lower end of primary.

Plans include running American reading programme Success for All alongside the National Literacy Strategy. Other funds and consultancy will come from RM. Its flotation made Mr Fischer's fortune - last week's Sunday Times ranked him among Britain's richest 500 people.


PARENT-LED action teams already work with schools in Devon and the new authorities of Plymouth and Torbay, developing home-school partnerships with a focus on raising children's achievement.

Devon Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations, which organises the scheme, wants to turn it into an education action zone.

"We would have additional funding and flexibility," said federation chair Jean Derijke.

The National Confederation of PTAs says research shows greater parental involvement leads to better results. "The fundamental idea is that if you have good working relationships, there is a correlation with achievement," said national chair David Butler.

But the short time-scale made consultations hard. "Some PTAs may not even know they're in the proposal," admitted Ms Derijke. Unlike in existing zones, the schools are not neighbours. Since local government reorganisation, they are covered by three councils and some are already in Plymouth's action zone. As yet, there are no business sponsors.

The EAZ advisory service suggested that the federation apply anyway, despite not having a full list of schools. If the bid is successful, further schools will be recruited.


IF THE first zones largely ignored the Government's plea to pilot new pay and conditions, at least one bidder has responded this time.

Hurlingham and Chelsea school in Fulham, west London, will implement the Green Paper - and staff support the move, says head Michael Murphy. "The Government says the linking of pay to pupils' performance is not up for negotiation," he said. "We want to be in the vanguard."

The key will be devising a way to link teachers' input to pupils' progress. "It's not easy," said Mr Murphy. "We want to spend a year seeing where the glitches are and coming up with solutions."

It provides strong bait for the Government, though the other schools in the zone will not join in the experiment. The bid is school-led but backed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council and a private firm already involved in one of the first zones.

Its themes are enrichment and removing barriers to learning. It focuses on the arts, with proposals including a continental day to allow extensive extra-curricular activities.

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