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Zones may fail for lack of profit

Government attempts to regenerate the school system through education action zones will fail unless more money is targeted at the "process of change", Arthur Andersen, the international consultancy, has warned.

The company, a partner in one of the first 12 zones which came into official existence this week, has plans to expand its operation as more zones come on stream.

But, according to Terry White, education associate: "Consideration needs to be given for targeted sums to be used for the process of change management. "

Arthur Andersen is just covering its costs in the Newham EAZ, in east London.

The company believes that if it proves it can add value, in its management workshops for headteachers, for example, it will establish itself as a market leader for future zones.

But if other zones do not have the funding available to engage Arthur Andersen, expansion will not be a viable business prospect.

The sums available for each zone - most have failed to raise Pounds 250, 000 in cash from businesses to match the Government's Pounds 750,000 a year - mean there is not enough to pay for the management expertise and the "visioning process" needed to effect radical change, said Mr White.

So most forums will just spend the money on employing teaching support staff and information communications technology.

Mr White said Arthur Andersen's skills and experience could be used, in partnership with the local education authority and schools, to "break the mould" in education.

The company made its name in educational innovation in the USA by opening a "school of the future" in Alameda, near San Francisco. In this high-tech school, pupils engage in self-directed learning, different ages mix, and there are no formal class periods.

One solution to the funding problem suggested by Mr White would be for part of the Government's standards fund to be ring-fenced to finance innovation, giving action zones or local authorities the opportunity to bid.

Tim Emmett, project policy director for the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT), a company which provides education services on a non-profit basis, and which is partnering the local authority in a zone in Lambeth, south London, said: "You wouldn't be in education action zones if you wanted to make money."

He said his company's involvement in a high-profile Government initiative was part of CfBT's long-term strategy to position itself in a changing education world. Involvement in the zone would increase its experience and enhance its reputation.

He said: "Our bid was education-outcomes led. We haven't spent most of the money on computers; we are working with heads and schools and looking at the structures to bring about systemic change."

The Government has said that the rules for setting up the next group of education action zones will be changed.

A spokeswoman at the Department fore Education and Employment said: "It is open to the zones to either spend the money on this area (management consultancy) within their existing resources, or to put it forward in their action plans for the future."

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