[Press and Publications] Firms' Apathy Sinks Education Action Zones

January 2001

No 3

New research from the IPPR and the University of Leicester has shown that the private sector has failed to successfully engage in the task of raising educational attainment through the Government’s Education Action Zones (EAZs) initiative.

Introduced in 1997, EAZs were promoted as a radical way of tackling low levels of educational attainment within some of Britain’s most deprived areas.

Zones were given freedoms to take over school governance, vary teachers’ terms and conditions and to disapply parts of the national curriculum. Involving private partners in funding and leading the zones were key selling points for the scheme.

The study, part of a booklet on Public Private Partnerships in Education, published by IPPR’s Commission on Public Private Partnerships, shows that private sector partners have failed to take on leadership or promote significant innovation. Funding for zones has fallen short of Government expectations.

The research found that:
  • Few zones have attracted £250,000 a year or more from the private or voluntary sectors. 
  • The amount of additional funding raised by zones, although difficult to calculate, appears not to have reached the £43 million claimed by Schools Minister Estelle Morris last June.
  • Many of the businesses who are listed as zone partners have minimal or no participation in the EAZ.
  • Despite efforts to attract schools, communities and businesses to take the lead in zones, none of the zones are entirely ‘business led’ - LEAs are central players in every one.
  • The vast majority of income donated by the private sector is ‘in kind’, and thus limited to a specific activity, which circumscribes the influence of the zone forum.
  • The research also found that few zones have been innovative in changing the curriculum or giving teachers new incentives, despite having the legal powers to do so. For instance, only one zone has considered altering teachers’ contracts, and no governing bodies have ceded their powers or budgets to a zone’s forum.

    The report explains that the Government’s expectations of levels of interest from businesses were too high. Over-regulation and excessive bureaucracy may have limited the private sector’s interest and the potential of zones to innovate.

    The authors suggest that zones would have benefited from being less reliant on funding from the private sector. Rob Watling, co-author and Deputy Director of the Centre for Citizenship Studies in Education at the University of Leicester, commented:

    “In spite of their promotion as ‘test beds’, the average zone appears to have become a combination of a traditional school improvement service and an education business partnership.

    “EAZs have not proved an attractive place for the private sector to increase their involvement in education. To claim otherwise risks discouraging us from learning lessons from EAZs - one of their most important purposes.”

    “The report does not pass judgement on the overall EAZ initiative, nor on the achievements of any individual zone. But it does suggest that some of the grander ambitions for these zones have been hard to realise - particularly the attempts to involve the private sector in the funding and management of projects.”

    Joe Hallgarten, IPPR researcher and co-author of the paper, added: “EAZs have moved from flagship to backseat, mentioned far less frequently by ministers. In the anticipated second Labour term, a third round of EAZs looks unlikely.”

    Gavin Kelly, secretary to the IPPR’s Commission on Public Private Partnerships, commented: “More and more government initiatives are based on the idea of private sector involvement and investment.

    “But the government has to learn from past experience. Interesting schemes should not be made or broken on their ability to get public sector participation or funding. Likewise, future education initiatives that seek to involve private sector partners will have to work out better ways of attracting their interest.”

    NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Dr Watling on 0116 252 3686.

    IPPR stands for Institute for Public Policy Research.

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    Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
    Last updated: 05 February 2001 15:49
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