The Co-op Group has announced a multi-million pound plan to accelerate the roll-out of its academy schools programme, with the ambition to more than treble the number of academies it sponsors to 40 in the next three years.
The Group is already the UK’s largest corporate sponsor of academies, opening three in the last year to take its current total to 12 – five primary and seven secondary. Its existing strategy is to take over “predominantly weak schools in economically challenged communities in the North, putting in place ambitious turnaround plans”.
The 12 Co-op Academies have almost 10,000 students and employ more than 1,000 teachers and support staff. Under the new plan, that is expected to grow to more than 40,000 students and 4,000 staff.
In an announcement release alongside this year’s annual results, the Group says it is putting a further £3.6m into the Co-op Academies Trust to kick-start the next growth phase. This reflects the number of schools wishing to join the programme, which is backed by the Department for Education (DfE). The Trust’s backing will complement DfE funding for the schools.
“The Trust has demonstrated that co-operative values and principles, strong governance and the ability to leverage the resources of the Co-op in areas such as brand, communications, HR, property, insurance and IT, can have a dramatic impact on school improvement,” the Group adds.
“Co-op colleagues also serve as school governors and provide mentoring and careers advice along with work placement support. A step change increase in the number of Trust academies will improve efficiency, provide better value for money, increase the scale and variety of school improvement services and enhance effectiveness for existing academies.”
It says this will help tackle the north-south educational divide – a week after a report by children’s commissioner Anne Longfield found that children from poorer homes in northern England face an education gap that starts before school and widens over time.
The Group opened its first academy in 2010 in Manchester, followed soon after by schools in Stoke-on-Trent and Leeds, and says the scheme has brought improved results, good attendance and impressive Ofsted inspections.
It says its sponsorship allows its academies to take advantage of expertise in the business and close ties in terms of work experience programmes. The academies provide students with vocational opportunities and seven apprentices were recently recruited to Co-op Insurance. It is estimated that 250-300 candidates will join the Co-op by 2022.
The Trust has been one of the highest performing multi-academy trusts in the north in the Government’s Multi-Academy Trust League Table and has been recognised by the Sutton Trust Charity as one of the top performing multi-academy trusts for disadvantaged students.
The work with Academies is part of the Co-op’s new Stronger Co-ops, Stronger Communities plan to create the Co-op of the future, launched alongside the Group’s annual results.
Steve Murrells, Co-op Group CEO, said: “Through a great education, Co-op Academies are changing the lives of thousands of young people. Our approach to education is built on the same principles as all co-operatives across the world – working to empower teachers and young people to work together for a better education and a better community.
“We have established a great track record of turning round schools. We also improve employability thanks to a holistic approach at a time when education and work practices are changing radically. We see a golden thread running from our academies, through work experience programmes and our apprenticeship schemes.”
Frank Norris, CEO of Co-op Academies Trust, said: “Our trust has benefited greatly from the support and encouragement of the Co-op as our sponsor. We have an impressive story of improvement for academies in some of the most challenging circumstances in the north of England.”