Unions bid to run education action zones

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The Independent Online
TWO OF the biggest teaching unions are finalising bids to run one of the Government's experimental education action zones, the National Union of Teachers revealed last night.

The NUT is in "the advanced stages" of talks with a local authority to become a partner in a bid, and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers confirmed it would enter the bidding for the next 15 zones.

The NUT plans an action zone covering the Blackbird Leys housing estate in Oxford, the scene of riots in 1991 and 1992. Oxfordshire's chief education officer, Graham Badman, said the proposed zone would cover a secondary school and 20 first, middle and special schools in Oxford.

The bid, the first by a teachers' union, will be hugely controversial. Rank and file union members have expressed hostility to the zones, launched by the Government last year to test radical reform of schools.

Teachers have opposed proposals for extending the school day and the academic year, as well as the zones' power to impose new pay deals.

This month Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, attacked the Prime Minister's offer of pounds 20,000 grants to attract parents to run some of the next 15 action zones, saying: "Spin and hype about parents running schools does not connect with reality. Parents want schools to be run by professionals in partnership with them."

So far, 25 zones, run by partnerships of local authorities, schools and business, are in place. Each has an extra pounds 1m to spend, pounds 750,000 from the Government, the rest from business. Yesterday Mr McAvoy said the union's involvement was a "bulwark" against possible privatisation of the education service. The bid would be announced within two weeks.

"We would want to be there to protect the professionalism as well as the conditions of service of teachers," said Mr McAvoy. "Unions are supposed to promote as well as protect the interests of their members.

"Our research shows that teachers in the classroom are being left out of the process. If we are more involved we will be able to ensure that they are."

The Education minister Charles Clarke said: "I very much welcome the commitment of the NUT to education action zones, and the fact that the union is seriously considering being a partner. It is a very positive step and one I very much welcome."

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