Later today, Labour & Co-operative MP Meg Munn will introduce the Co-operative Schools Bill in Parliament under the 10-minute rule. Here she tells us why.
This afternoon, I will rise in the Commons to introduce the Co-operative Schools Bill. It is a landmark in the extraordinary story of co-operative education, a movement that has hugely expanded in just a few years since the Co-operative College and Labour’s then education ministers embarked on this journey.
I have a vision of 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, which I am proud to represent in Parliament.
Those values are evident in Co-operative Trust schools where everyone – teachers, parents, pupils and the local community – work together for mutual benefit. Performance improves; pupils learn and are more engaged with the life of the school. The best possible environment for young people to learn and develop is created – where everyone is encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions, the local community has a say in how the school is run, and with a commitment to equality and equity everyone is helped to be the best they can.
In 2008 David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition, spoke of the desire to see a “new generation of co-operative schools… funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community.”
However there is no sign that this has been attempted. Academies have become the centre piece of education policy. Nor has the free-schools policy led to a new generation of parent-owned co-operatives – to date just one of the free schools is expected to operate as a co-operative. Much is said about choice in education, but if this is to become a reality we need to allow co-operative school trusts to flourish and remove hurdles that make that difficult.
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.
So the first clause of my very short Bill seeks to amend Education Acts to include these legal forms and so 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.
The Co-operative College provide an effective support system, and the Schools Co-operative Society has been established as the national network and representative of co-operative schools in England.
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.
Lipson Community College in Plymouth was an early co-operative trust school, now a co-operative academy. The arrangements for involving parents, “Parent Voice”, was recognised as ‘outstanding’ in an Ofsted survey on parental and community engagement. “Student Voice” at de Vinci College in Derby gives pupils a real role in school decisions, allowing them to sit in on interview panels and join the staff on training sessions.
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.
Nursery schools are in many ways the most naturally co-operative part of the education sector with 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.
Consequently clause 2 of my bill would remove the relevant clause in the Act enabling nursery schools to be established as school trusts.
I believe co-operative schools are very well placed not only to ensure high standards of education, but also to teach children that the values of co-operation have a great deal to offer.
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.
In the words of Pat McGovern, headteacher at Helston Community College, “The last thing the people of Cornwall want is to see a big education chain coming in to run school services and take money out of the area. … Our co-operative is about a mutual solution to local needs.”
The education system should always be based on support, collaboration and co-operation at every level.