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MIXED VIEWS OVER EDUCATION ACTION ZONES

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A study published today by the independent think-tank, the Social Market Foundation, accuses local education author...
A study published today by the independent think-tank, the Social Market Foundation, accuses local education authorities of opportunism over the government's planned education action zones.

The Financial Times (p10) reports that the idea of EAZs was to allow a new generation of schools to be run at arm's length from central and local government and to be run by voluntary groups and the private sector.

But the report says the conditions of bidding are such that all 60 bids are being led by local authorities keen to cash in on the money being put into the schemes.

To 'get the policy back on track' the study says private voluntary trusts should be allowed to take over the worst schools within a zone.

The Guardian (section 2, p4) analyses the arguments for and against the new zones with examples from similar schemes in the US.

Benno Schmidt, the chairman of the Edison Project, which runs 25 schools in the US and plans to open 20 more this year, is confident that many of the radical changes introduced by his company can be adapted succesfully to British education.

He is currently negotiating with four local authorities including Tameside MBC as part of an ambitious bid designed to appeal to ministers' demands for fresh thinking.

'If parents were given the choice of the sort of schools operated under the Edison model as we would create for the UK,' says Schmidt, 'they would vote with their feet and they would be extremely popular schools. I am confident that the educational results that would follow would be impressive.'

In Edison schools, pupils spend an extra two hours a day in school and teachers are paid bonuses on the basis of their school and team performance.

However, Bernard Regan, a member of the National Union of Teachers executive, warns of dangers education action zones will threaten.

'The zones will transform the relationship between students, parents, teachers, schools, local education authorities and governing bodies; they will reinforce selection through the encouragement of specialist schools,' he says.

'They will authorise the introduction of an impoverished skills-based Gradgrind curriculum focusing on preparation for employment; they will threaten the jobs, pay and conditions of teaching and non-teaching staff and will open up education to the profiteering involvement of business.'

He concludes that the idea is fundamentally flawed. 'Education action zones will not do justice to the very students they are meant to benefit. Students, parents and teachers will have nothing to gain from them,' he says.

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