New research from a left-leaning think tank suggests that the private sector has failed to play a full partnership role in supporting 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 in some of Britain’s most deprived areas.
Zones were given freedoms to take over school governance, vary teachers’ terms and conditions and to be excused from parts of the national curriculum. Involving private partners in funding and leading the zones were key features of the scheme.
The study, contained in 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. Private contributions to the funding for zones has fallen short of Government expectations.
The research also found that many of the businesses listed as zone partners have minimal or no participation in the EAZ they are linked with.
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 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.
The report says 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. They also predict that if there is to be a second Labour term, a third round of EAZs would be unlikely.