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A quiet schools revolution

Monday, December 9, 2013

The following article was published in the December issue of Progress magazine.

The current education system is more fragmented than at any point in the past 25 years. There are dramatic variations in schools’ success, and in the accountability they have to the communities they serve.

The Labour Government introduced the academy programme to turn round underperforming schools, predominantly in areas of deprivation. Many of these proved that greater freedom coupled with community control was a winning formula, transforming their student’s future prospects. Unfortunately this government allow any school to become an academy. We then saw scandals such as Al Madinah, which fail to deliver even a satisfactory level of education. There are also schools forced to become academies, some scooped up by expansion-hungry chains who limit the involvement of parents, students and the wider community.

Earlier this year I introduced a Bill into parliament to enshrine in legislation the structure of co-operative schools. There are already over 600 across the country, and the number is growing. Co-operative Trust schools are at the forefront of a quiet revolution, and the national Co-operative Schools Network is now larger than any of the major academy chains. Launched by the last Labour Government, the co-operative model ensures that everyone with a stake in the school’s success parents, teachers, support staff, local community organisations and pupils has the opportunity to be involved in running it.

Co-operative schools benefit from their links to the wider co-operative movement with its tens of millions of members. The key is having control in local hands, not exchanging local education authority control for Whitehall, or for unaccountable education chains.

Emerging results show co-operative schools provide a well-rounded curriculum and equip pupils with the social and personal skills they need to thrive. They raise aspiration and attainment by instilling in pupils co-operative values such as self-help, social responsibility, equality and a global outlook, delivered within a faith-neutral environment. This is a model that delivers academic excellence driven by local accountability.

The new shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, has already called for parent-led academies. Theoretically co-operative schools enjoy cross-party support, David Cameron said in 2008 there should be “a new generation of co-operative schools funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community.” The NASUWT trade union is also supportive of the model.

The most recent convert from the Conservative benches is Steve Baker MP for High Wycombe. He saw for himself the difference that becoming a co-operative made to a school in one of the most deprived areas of his constituency. In a recent debate he described how he learnt about the values of the co-operative movement, and felt that separated from state power, they represent values and ideals that any fully formed human being should support.

However the legal forms of co-operatives are determined as Industrial and Provident Societies, or Co-operative or Community Benefit Societies. There is no provision in the relevant Acts for co-operative schools. Currently, the majority of these schools operate within an informal network of Co-operative Trusts.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 needs to be amended to allow nursery schools to become school trusts and co-operatives. Co-operatives, by their nature, are based in a geographical area that serves a local community. A Co-operative Trust could be a school from nursery through to secondary level, and perhaps through to further education.

To secure a solid foundation for their continued development we have to formalise the framework within which they operate. I have called on the government to work with me and the Co-operative Party to bring forward legislation to ensure co-operative schools can work on a level playing field with other school structures.

If this government fails to support co-operative schools the next Labour administration must introduce legislation to strengthen their legal framework. This is an important step to ensure the co-operative model is able to develop to serve local communities.

Meg Munn MP

Progress: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/ 

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