Internet will link best teachers to dozens of schools

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN WILL be taught by teachers from schools hundreds of miles away in the first "virtual" education action zones announced yesterday by the Government.

The best teachers will be featured on video and the Internet and pupils will also be linked to schools overseas. The scheme, which will connect 24 primary and secondary schools in Kent and Somerset, forms one of 41 new zones. Ministers want them to break the mould in education by bringing in private funds to promote innovation. Each pupil and teacher in the "virtual" zone will receive a laptop computer as part of a drive to raise standards.

Each zone will receive pounds 500,000 a year for three years from the Government plus another pounds 250,000 if they succeed in raising pounds 250,000 from private sources.

Dr Chris Gerry, head of the Hugh Christie Technology College in Tonbridge, Kent, which is part of the "virtual" zone, said it could transform education. At present, schools were too often isolated and competition prevented them learning from their immediate neighbours. "Our answer is to work collaboratively with partners who at the secondary level are geographically distant"

Another "virtual" zone in Essex and the south of England is also being considered by the Government. Almost half of the new education action zones announced yesterday will be led by schools. Most of the first 25 zones were run by local education authorities, which already oversee schools.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, offered pounds 20,000 grants to shortlisted proposals to help schools and parents to draw up plans that would enable them to compete with councils. Nineteen of the 41 new zones, designed to raise standards in inner cities and under-achieving schools, will be led by schools. Jaguar, Barclays and Safeway are involved in the second round.

The 41 zones, chosen from 123 applicants, will share an extra pounds 108m over three years. With the existing 25 zones, they will cover 1300 schools. Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, who announced the successful bidders in Telford, Shropshire, said: "Like many other new zones, one of the strengths of Telford and Wrekin's proposal is that, while local education authority-led, they have sought to give parents a major role. I am pleased to see that they have had a major say in the zone strategy. Some were recently involved in the appointment of zone directors."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, pointed out that successful bids were led almost entirely by schools or local authorities, not parents. He said: "Government attempts to persuade parents to run education action zones have inevitably failed. Parents want their children's education to be organised and run by schools in conjunction with local authorities.

"The question that emerges is, `Where's the beef?' The imaginative proposals identified by the education department are virtually all the types of things schools do as a normal part of their work."