HC Deb 11 February 1999 vol 325 cc448-9
3. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

If he will make a statement on the progress in establishing education action zones. [68874]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

We have established 25 education action zones. Twelve began in September, and 13 at the start of the January term. The zones have now developed their action plans, and are in the process of implementing new and radical policies.

Mr. Davies

The new education action zone in Croydon is supported not only by many big businesses—Commercial Union, the Midland bank, the National Westminster bank, Direct Line, Iandis and Gyr, Allders, Abbey National and many more—but by the community health trust, which is concerned about the health of school children, and by the Whitgift school, one of the most successful independent schools in the country, because it provides musical instruments and advises on best teaching practice and the use of playing fields and sports facilities. Surely this is the real third way of partnership that will drive up standards in Croydon's schools.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Steer carefully on the third way.

Mr. Blunkett

As ever, I am grateful for the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

We are pleased with what has been achieved by the education action zone in Croydon, and pleased to affirm that we have seen the development of genuine co-operation—rather than competition—between schools, between the public and the private sector and between statutory and voluntary organisations. They are coming together to deliver an improvement in standards, for which education action zones are designed. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) for his work in bringing in private companies, achieving co-operation from health and public services and forming links with the school that he described, which are already proving of great value to the children. In education action zones, we are overcoming simple, crude market competition and, instead, achieving the genuine collaboration of those who have the best interests of children at heart.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Can the Secretary of State name anything happening in an education action zone that is not happening, or could not happen, elsewhere?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, I can. For example, as part of raising standards in those zones, 140 major companies have now committed themselves to working in them that would not have done so. This year alone, they have put into the zones £5 million that would not otherwise have been available. The major electronic commitments of British Aerospace, for example, in Hull, are making an enormous difference by linking every school with their family and community developments in adult education. When the Prime Minister and I launched the latest round of education action zones in Blackburn, we saw schools that are linking with companies to design—and then be able to manufacture—which brings education and employment prospects together.

I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, but, having corrected The Daily Telegraph on the abolition of the national curriculum as a Tory party policy, but not yet corrected anyone on his belief that the literacy hour is a mistake, or put the nation right on whether the numeracy hour will be condemned by the Tory party, will he tell us—we would really like to hear it—what the Tories would do, except say sorry for the 18 miserable years that they spent in government?