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Zones fail to attract private funding

THE promised private-sector investment in education action zones has failed to materialise, an analysis by the largest teaching union has shown.

Although the zones were heralded by the Government as unique partnerships between the private sector and schools, in practice the vast majority were initiated and led by councils, a National Union of Teachers' conference will be told on Tuesday.

The NUT's analysis of zone accounts has also revealed a gap between private-sector promises of cash and what has been delivered. Its zones unit also established that some had found it very difficult to attract the necessary pound;250,000 private-sector funding.

The union compared each initial application for zone status with the accounts for its first year of operation and found that not all the promised private-sector funding had arrived. The analysis also confirmed union fears about the high cost of managing and administering the zones.

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers' survey of teacher attitudes commissioned by the NUT is expected to back the union's own research.

The survey, to be unveiled at the conference, found that teachers working in zones believe the initiative has had a largely positive effect. The extra resources that come with the status are particularly appreciated by teachers.

However, they are concerned at the increase in their workload and disappointed that they have not been given a bigger say in shaping the zone's work.

Barnsley's zone had expected onethird of its costs to be met by the private sector but its first year's accounts reveal that only 3.75 per cent of funding came from private companies, the NUT found.

Newham, east London, was the only zone to report more private funding than expected, up from 25 per cent in its bid to more than 50 per cent in the first year.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis, who will speak at the conference, said: "I am concerned that education action zones are yesterday's child as far as the DFEE is concerned.

"However, there is evidence that they are having positive effects. This is due to the extra resources provided to schools, the increased cooperation between primary and secondaries and the greater amount of in-service training."

WHAT ARE EDUCATION ACTION ZONES?

Education action zones are local partnerships between groups of schools, businesses, parents, local education authorities and others designed to boost standards in challenging areas. They are typically formed around two or three secondary schools and their feeder primaries.

In September 1998 the first 12 zones started with 13 joining them in

January 1999. There were 123 applications for zone status in the second round.

This year 48 zones started operating.

Each zone receives a Department for Education and Employment grant of pound;500,000 funding a year for three years as well as additional matched funding of up to pound;250,000, making a total of pound;1 million each year.

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