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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 05/98: Education Action Zones  
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EDITIONS
Thursday, 21 May, 1998, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
How will the action zones be run?
teacher and children in a computer lesson
The action zones will be allowed to break free from national pay and conditions for teachers
Schools within an action zone will, if they wish, continue to control their own budgets and will keep their own head teacher. However, a new layer of management will be added above the individual schools. This will be led by a project director, answerable to the forum, and charged with delivering their action plan.

Individual school governing bodies can, if they choose, cede their powers to the forum or they can contract to receive certain services from the project director.

Each action zone will be expected to raise 250,000 from the private sector to contribute to school improvement. The government will provide an additional 750,000 to fund experimentation.

What experiments can be expected?

The government expects the action zones to be the main testing grounds for many other educational innovations.

Specialist schools

The government wants one specialist school in each zone. These will be part of the growing network of specialist technology, language or arts schools. These schools get extra money to provide better resources in their chosen field and often select some of the pupils on the basis of their aptitude for the school's specialism. Critics say they are operating a "back door" grammar school approach.

Super teachers

The new advanced skills teacher - a new grade to reward experienced teachers who want to stay in the classroom rather than move into management - will be pioneered in the action zones. This will allow big salary increases for a few teachers, as the pay scale will be extended up to 40,000 a year. The action zones will also be allowed to break free from national pay and conditions for teachers.

The unions fear this could mean salary reductions and longer hours, although it is more likely that pay will be higher in the zones.

Speaking at the National Union of Teachers conference in April, one delegate, Sue McMahon said: "We have no guarantees that our jobs will be safe or promises that our rights will not be withdrawn."

Others fear that the action zones may drain teachers from elsewhere. Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, has said: "The facility to boost pay rates to attract the best teachers highlights the need for a substantial salary boost ... The plight of schools losing their best teachers to these education action zones seems to be ignored."

Early excellence centres

These are intended to co-ordinate the current plethora of providers of pre-school care and education. They will bring together playgroups, day-care nurseries, private nursery schools and state reception and nursery classes to ensure a more coherent approach for the under-5s.

School hours

Schools in the Zones will be encouraged to experiment with the length of the school day and the school year. One of the bidders for involvement in an Education Action Zone is a for-profit company in the USA, The Edison Project. It runs schools in various parts of the USA and claims success in raising standards after extending the school day by 2 hours and working a different school year. Some technology colleges here are also trying a 5-term year.

The curriculum

The action zones will have the freedom to set aside the national curriculum. This might allow them to provide more time for work on the basics of maths and English in primary schools. At secondary level, this freedom could allow greater emphasis on vocational education or work experience.

But the National Union of Teachers is concerned about changes that will be made to the national curriculum if schools cede their powers to the forum.

Olive Forsythe of the NUT said: "The action zone forum will be able, if given the power, to dis-apply parts of the national curriculum ... We are convinced that the ability to dis-apply the national curriculum should only take place where this is agreed by the teachers." Otherwise, she said, any changes "could disadvantage children."

Next: The fear of privatisation

Links to more Education Action Zones stories are at the foot of the page.


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