Today, Parliament’s Public Bill Committee will be considering a series of amendments to the Deregulation Bill 2014 that would significantly strengthen co-operative schools, establishing their co-operative status in law for the first time.
These amendments build on the proposals in the Co-operative Schools Bill I introduced last year, which aimed to enable schools to register as Industrial Provident Societies (the legal form taken by most co-operatives), as well as enabling the expansion of the co-operative schools movement into nursery schools.
In the time since I first tabled the Bill, the political consensus around co-operative schools has grown quickly giving us a real opportunity to make the legal changes for which I have been calling.
The Department for Education’s own vision is for a highly educated society in which opportunity is equal for children and young people no matter what their background or family circumstances. That is a widely shared vision. But I also believe that alone it is not sufficient. I want to see a society that is built on the values of self-help; self-responsibility; democracy; equality; equity; and solidarity. The values of the Co-operative Movement.
The Schools Co-operative Society believes that by encouraging everyone to work together – teachers, parents, pupils and the local community – they gain mutual benefits and help themselves. Performance improves and pupils learn more and are engaged in the life of the school. This creates the best possible environment for young people to learn and develop – an environment where everyone is encouraged to take responsibility for, and answer to, their own actions. Young people brought up in that environment continue to contribute in a positive way to their communities long after they have left school.
Teachers and support staff are also given a stake in the running of the school, which is an incentive to work toward the highest possible standards. Education should be about collaboration and co-operation at every level.
Co-operative Schools not only raise standards in education, and keep a focus on school improvement; they also offer a model of local accountability and mutual support within communities. Many co-operative schools are now forming ‘clusters’ where they work together, including procuring services, sharing back office functions or special needs support.
The Schools Co-operative Society has developed a distinct Co-operative Trust model that enables schools to embed co-operative values in their ethos. This includes those ethical values in keeping with the founders of the co-operative movement – openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others.
We have an opportunity to consolidate the strides made by the co-operative schools movement in recent years, and build a solid foundation for their continued development and success. As a Co-operative Party MP I am delighted that this model is gaining acceptance across political parties. The co-operative school’s movement has achieved a great deal so far and with legislative clarity much more can be achieved.