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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 07:32 GMT


Now for the 'virtual' action zone

Schools will be linked by e-mail and video-conferencing

The first 'virtual' education action zone has been switched on by the Department for Education.

The innovation is among the latest batch of 41 action zones to be announced, and will link 24 schools more than 100 miles apart in Kent and Somerset.

[ image: All 11,000 pupils in the action zones could be provided with laptop computers]
All 11,000 pupils in the action zones could be provided with laptop computers
Action zones, which were intended as test-beds for educational innovation, have mostly been launched in areas of deprivation, in an attempt to overcome longstanding underachievement.

But the virtual action zone will explore the improvements that can be achieved using information technology - with the schools set to be connected by video-conferencing and e-mail.

Chris Gerry, headteacher of Hugh Christie Technology College in Tonbridge, Kent, which will be one of the participating schools, says that the action zone will seek to provide a laptop for each of the 11,000 pupils.

Each of the schools will have video-conferencing equipment installed, with access to e-mail improved for pupils and the 1,000 teachers and support staff.

[ image: Primary and secondary schools will work in groups of three within the action zone]
Primary and secondary schools will work in groups of three within the action zone
The schools, including both primary and secondary, will set up links in groups of three - with the groups constantly changing until all the schools have worked with each other.

Mr Gerry says that the intention is to establish which techniques for teaching work most effectively, and following a "chainstore" principle, apply them throughout the group.

The schools will explore the idea of working as a "federation", says Mr Gerry, with the aim of developing common approaches to problems.


The collaboration is intended to improve standards in all the participating schools, with particular attention to be paid to literacy, numeracy and science projects.

Even though Kent has retained a grammar school system, all the participants are non-selective schools, and another goal of the action zone is to promote 'social inclusion'.

The action zone experiment was launched by the government last year, with the aim of finding new ways of raising standards in schools.

Each receives £750,000 a year for three years in extra government cash, but must also raise £250,000 in matching funds.

The zones have brought together schools, local authorities, business and community organisations, in a co-ordinated effort.

'Major businesses'

In this second round of zones, almost 800 schools will share an extra £108m over three years.

The details were announced by Education Minister Estelle Morris on a visit to Telford, Shropshire - one of the successful bidders.

"This is the second year of the education action zones. They now cover almost 1,300 schools," she said.

"Major businesses like Jaguar, Barclays and Safeway are involved in round two as well as small local businesses.

"In total the EAZ initiative, over the two rounds, has brought £18 million of sponsorship into education from the private sector."

Ministers came in for some embarrassment over the first 25 zones. One of the suggestions had been that they would break the pattern of local authority control on schools - but most of them were council initiatives.

But 19 of the 41 second-round zones were initiated by groups of schools. Those on the shortlist of 47 - out of 123 applicants - had grants of £20,000 each to develop their ideas.

Where the 41 new zones are:

  • Easington and Seaham, Co. Durham.
  • Peterlee, Co. Durham.
  • Ashington, Northumberland.
  • East Cleveland, Redcar and Cleveland.
  • North Stockton, Stockton on Tees.
  • Sunderland.
  • Bolton.
  • Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
  • Barrow, Cumbria.
  • Preston.
  • Dingle, Granby and Toxteth, Liverpool.
  • Speke and Garston, Liverpool.
  • East Manchester.
  • Wythenshawe, Manchester.
  • South Bradford.
  • Withernsea and Southern Holdernesse, East Riding.
  • Sheffield.
  • Wakefield.
  • Clacton and Harwich, Essex.
  • Southend.
  • Bedford.
  • North East Derbyshire Coalfields.
  • Corby.
  • Camborne, Poole and Redruth.
  • Gloucester.
  • Bridgwater, Somerset.
  • Coventry.
  • Dudley.
  • Wednesbury, Sandwell.
  • Shropshire.
  • Stoke on Trent.
  • Telford and Wrekin, Shropshire.
  • Wolverhampton.
  • Hackney, London.
  • Islington, London.
  • Lewisham, London.
  • Hastings and St Leonards, East Sussex.
  • Leigh, Hants.
  • Kent and Somerset (virtual).
  • North Gillingham, Medway.
  • Slough.
Two other zones, in Oxford and Greenwich, have already been given the go-ahead to start.

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