FLAGGING schools in Burnley are set to be included in a controversial government initiative to raise standards in classrooms.

Burnley has been put forward in a £3million bid to set up an education action zone which will be managed by local partnerships involving schools, businesses, community groups and Lancashire County Council.

If the bid is successful, the Burnley zone would be the second in East Lancashire, following on from the Blackburn zone which was hailed a success during a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Education Secretary David Blunkett in January.

A Lancashire County Council spokesman said the plan was at an early stage and that a members group had chosen Burnley as one of three areas to go forward in the bid.

Individual schools which would benefit have not yet been identified but public meetings are to be held during the next month to give more details.

The spokesman said: "It is exciting news for Burnley which will unfold over the next few weeks.'' John Barratt, local secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This is the first I have heard about it. I would not like to comment until I know just what the county is planning and have looked at what has happened in Blackburn and their experience.''

During his visit to Blackburn the Prime Minister announced the second wave of EAZs which will have special reference to community involvement and can be set up without the involvement of the local education authority.

In Blackburn the EAZ has seen money pumped in to updating and introducing technology in schools and private businesses have become heavily involved in work to raise standards.

Lancashire County Council declined to become involved in EAZs initially over fears they would only ever have short term benefits.

But the county council will be involved in the Burnley bid as well as similar bids in Preston and Skelmersdale - the three bids will bring in £9million altogether if successful.

The chairman of the education and cultural services committee, County Councillor Hazel Harding, said: "The council welcomes and fully supports these exciting initiatives.

"It is vital the bids represent the ideas and aspirations of the schools and the local communities which they serve.

"Local consultation and close liaison between the schools will be very important if these areas are to be given the resource boost which could do so much to benefit pupils, parents and teachers."

Education Action Zones have been criticised by teachers unions for involving businesses in schools.

Schools which are targeted for action are, in the main, those which have been told they are not meeting the required standards by Ofsted inspectors.

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