Socialist Worker

Education Action Zones: Private sector failure

Issue No. 1776

'We experimented with the futures of thousands of children all for the sake of free market dogma. And the experiment failed.' Education minister Stephen Timms did not admit that last week. But he should have as he announced that Education Action Zones are to be phased out.

The zones were the first big idea the New Labour government developed in its first term of office to 'revolutionise' education. The then education secretary, David Blunkett, said that they would be 'test beds for innovation' where private companies would invest alongside the government to raise standards and give undreamed of opportunities for children.

Last week he admitted that the whole scheme, which teachers, parents and pupils had campaigned against, has failed, even on the narrowest of measures. Test results for 14 year olds in schools in the zones are falling behind the national average.

When the scheme was launched in 1998, teachers rightly attacked the moves towards privatisation and restricting the curriculum to what suited business. The government claimed they were 'dinosaurs' and that business money would flood into the zones, set up in deprived areas.

Papers such as the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard accused teachers who opposed the zones of 'threatening strike action to deprive children in poor areas of extra cash'.

But now every study of the 73 zones has found that businesses have been happy to get free publicity from being associated with the schemes, but have refused to deliver cash.

There has, of course, been no apology from the government or the press, which all supported the schemes. And New Labour's latest plans for education mean even more privatisation and selection.

They also depend on extending the number of 'faith schools', overwhelmingly Church of England. That is despite the fact that new figures show they tend to exclude poorer students and lead to greater racial segregation.

Some 80 percent of people are opposed to more faith schools. There are also majorities against privatisation and selection.

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Sat 24 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1776
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