Business has an important role to play in supporting schools

Francis Beckett ("Business takes Blunkett for a ride", 30 August) not uncharacteristically misses the point about education action zones and ignores the substantial increase in education spending which is taking place under this government.

This business involvement in education action zones is important and in the 25 well-established zones is worth about £6 million. It is not just about cash, but about providing outside expertise to support zones and schools. As in the specialist school programme, business is providing valuable partnership from which schools gain.

Of the other 47 bidders, only two have so far been approved and both have already got the required private sector sponsorship. Most are still developing their proposals, so it is absurd, as your contents page does, to suggest they are a "failure". They haven't even completed the application process yet, let alone started to operate.

However, the real point about the zones will be whether they help us to develop innovative ways to raise standards. Newham is pioneering new ways of recruiting and keeping good teachers. Blackburn and Darwen has developed a flexible curriculum to support greater vocational education. Grimsby has made imaginative use of information technology in teaching and home links.

Instead of piloting everything across the country, we are encouraging genuine local innovation - nearly half the new bids are led by schools and heads, for example. However, the government is certainly not reliant on such partnerships to ensure that we have more money for education. The extra £19 billion UK-wide between now and 2002 means that in real terms Labour will be spending an extra £200 per pupil after a fall of £80 per pupil in the last three years of the Conservative government.

Already, we have funded an extra 4,000 infant teachers to reduce class sizes, enabled 10,000 schools to do much-needed repairs through the New Deal, provided money for an extra 23 million school books, doubled the number of specialist schools, provided extra money to tackle social exclusion and successfully introduced the literacy hour.

David Blunkett
Secretary of State for Education and Employment

This article first appeared in the 06 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Whatever happened to liberty?