The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Co-operative Schools: Transforming teachers, students and communities

25th April 2013

Meg Munn MP on her private member's bill, which would cut red tape for co-operative school trusts

The Co-operative College has over recent years worked with the Co-operative Party and schools to develop a distinct co-operative trust model that enables schools to embed co-operative values into the long term ethos of the school. Through an extensive network built by the Schools Co-operative Society, co-operative schools have access to mutual and targeted support to achieve the highest standards.

The Department for Education’s vision is for a highly educated society in which opportunity is more equal for children and young people no matter what their background or family circumstances. I believe part of that vision is a society that values self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. These are the values of the Co-operative movement and of the Co-operative Party.

At the moment the legal forms of co-operatives are determined as Industrial and Provident Societies, or co-operative or community benefit societies, and there is no provision in the relevant acts for co-operative schools. They have to work around the existing legislation in a clumsy and confusing way. I recently presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill to Parliament, designed to improve legislation for co-operatives and ensure a level playing field with other school structures.

Despite the legal difficulties, in just five years co-operative schools have become the third largest grouping within the English education system, with currently over 450 operating. 30 have become co-operative converter academies, a small number are co-operative sponsor academies and we have seen the creation of the first co-operative multi-academy trust. Those that have led the process are confident that growth will continue. So far numbers have doubled every year, and with many more schools adopting this model we can expect over 1,000 schools using co-operative models by the time of the next General Election.

The Co-operative College provide an effective support system, and the Schools Co-operative Society has been established as the national network of co-operative schools in England. Through the extensive network they have built, co-operative schools have access to mutual and targeted support to achieve the highest standards. They have developed a distinct model that enables schools to embed co-operative values into the ethos of the school. This also includes ethical values in keeping with the founders of the co-operative movement – openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others.

As the Secretary of State for Education has recognised, when extending the academies programme to primary schools, it is vital that children get the best foundation at primary level to realise their potential at secondary level. I agree, and I think we also need to get it right at nursery level. Many co-operative networks and co-operative trusts are based on strong geographical clusters. They wish to raise achievement by supporting young people from nursery to school leaving age. Yet the Education Act of 2006 prevents nurseries setting up as school trusts.

Nursery schools are in many ways the most naturally co-operative part of the education sector considering their engagement with parents and carers. Enabling nursery schools to become full members of trusts would strengthen that engagement in early years, and help develop the nursery to secondary vision of education which best enables young people to realise their potential. The Ten Minute Rule Bill also seeks to remove the relevant clause in the 2006 Education Act enabling nursery schools to be established as school trusts.

For young people the experience of supporting each other in school and seeing the support the community and other co-operatives give, helps to shape character and inculcate a positive approach toward others. There is evidence that young people brought up in that environment continue to contribute to their communities long after they have left school.

The Schools Co-operative Society:

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