Minister vows to shake up schools

SWEEPING CHANGES to the way schools are run will transform pupils' lives by the next century, the Government promised yesterday.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, said that 25 education action zones would challenge the status quo by introducing longer school days, a different school year and new types of lessons.

Teachers warned, however, that they would resist any changes to their pay and conditions caused by longer working hours.

Zones, which will involve groups of schools in areas where pupils are underachieving, will attract pounds 56m over three years from the taxpayer and pounds 19m from business.

The first 12 zones will start in September and the rest in January. More are expected next September and ministers are hoping that parents will bid to set up new zones where they are unhappy with local schools.

Mr Byers said: "Let there be no doubt that education action zones present a fundamental challenge to the educational status quo, a real threat to the vested interests which have for too long held back our education system."

Household names such as Rolls-Royce, Kellogg's, Tate and Lyle and American Express are business partners in the zones with local authorities or groups of schools. British Aerospace, for example, will help plan the curriculum in Hull.

Most will be led by local authorities but two, ministers say, will be led by business: Shell International will take the lead in Lambeth, south London, and Comcast, a cable, telephone and television provider, in Middlesbrough. The Halifax bank will be "a driving force" in the Calderdale zone.

The 25 successful bids chosen from a total of 60 applications include proposals for:

a tailor-made television channel bringing the classroom into pupils' living rooms in Grimsby.

an increase of 50 per cent in school opening hours in Birmingham.

investigation of a school year split into four or five terms in Croydon.

a longer school day, Saturday classes and breakfast clubs in Hull.

work-related lessons for disaffected 14- to 16-year-olds in Brighton and Newcastle.

A quarter of the zones are considering whether to vary teachers' pay and conditions to accommodate longer school days and weekend and holiday working.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said the aim was to transform and modernise schools: "The traditional solutions are not working in these areas."

All zones will receive pounds 750,000 a year from the Government and pounds 250,000 from business for three years and must set targets to raise standards. Each will involve several secondary schools and up to 15 primaries. They will be run by forums including representatives of local authorities, business, teachers and parents. In the business-led zones, company representatives will chair the forums but no profit-making company will be in control.

Responding for the Tories, education spokesman David Willetts said that zones would be "left in the hands of the very local education authorities that even the Department for Education believes has failed".

He added: "This is yet another example of the Government talking tough rhetoric but the reality is different."

David Hart, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If education action zones take off nationally, they will represent the biggest change the education system has seen in decades. They will become the Trojan Horse which could well destroy local education authorities as we know them."

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