Lambeth ready for steep learning curve

Business in the classroom: Ministers love it, teachers loathe it, and a cash-strapped London school is giving it a try
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THE STATISTICS alone show the scale of the task ahead for teachers in the London Borough of Lambeth's education action zone.

The borough is ranked as the fourth most deprived in Britain, with unemployment running at around 17 per cent. One in 10 girls get pregnant by the age of 19. Nearly a third of the borough's children learn English as a second language. An average of 28 per cent of school leavers in Lambeth get five or more good GCSE passes, one of the lowest rates in London.

Leaders of the action zone are hoping to make an immediate impact on schools in the borough when their zone opens for business in September. But they have decided against radical changes to the school year, or any dramatic alteration to teachers contracts.

The Lambeth zone brings together 25 nursery and primary schools and two secondaries: Stockwell Park and Lillian Baylis, one of the schools "named and shamed" last year by David Blunkett, the education secretary.

The international oil giant, Shell, is putting up pounds 50,000 a year to help fund the project, but the zone was drawn up and will be run by Lambeth borough council and a private sector consultancy, the Centre for British Teachers (CFBT), "as equal partners". CFBT, a registered charity, runs careers services, teacher training, Ofsted inspection teams and a supply teacher agency.

Tim Emmett, principal planning director at CFBT and co-author of the Lambeth bid, said his company would offer advice on school management and initiatives like after school clubs. "Our role is to provide the consultancy, the leverage and the experience of operating internationally," he said. CFBT is a charity, but is looking at the potential of the zones to expand its business.

Ty Goddard, chairman of education in Lambeth, said he wanted the zone to raise the profile and standing of the borough, as well as school standards. He said: "What we want to see is support and respect for teachers and also to redefine the relationship between the education community and the business community."

Some heads, however, said they knew little about what the zone would mean in practice for their schools. One said: "What people want to know is what it will mean on Monday morning or Friday afternoon." Mr Emmett said it would be up to schools to decide which initiatives in the zones to take up. Meetings to finalise details would start next week.

Proposals in Lambeth include extending the school day by providing breakfast on the one hand and after-school homework clubs on the other.

Headteachers and middle managers in schools will have mentors from business, and officials are planning training schemes for those seeking promotion. Schools will run special arts and sports events and set up school councils.

Every secondary school pupil in the zone will be encouraged to take up the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, and pupils will be asked to act as mentors to younger children to help crack down on bullying.

In the classroom, the zone will focus on literacy, numeracy and science in the borough's primary schools. Within five years the local authority wants to see 80 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving national standards for their age in English and 75 per cent in maths.

Mr Goddard said: "They are quite simple measures, but they are measures that parents and teachers want."