The Co-op Group is calling for UK businesses to support education to help tackle the country’s productivity gap.
The retailer believes the country will only get the workforce it needs to tackle this gap if industry starts supporting the all-round development of students, in order to create a flexible, highly skilled and motivated workforce for the future.
The UK’s productivity gap with the other six G7 economies – the difference in GDP per hour worked – was 16.3% in 2016.
The Group opened its first academy in 2010 in Manchester, and now supports 12 academies by sponsoring the Co-op Academies Trust – a multi-academy trust (MAT) which has responsibility for the governance and educational standards of its member schools. The Group is looking to increase the number of academies it supports to 40 across the north of England over the next three years, kickstarted by an investment of £3.6m.
Pippa Wicks, deputy CEO at the Group, said that although industry “demands high quality, values-led talent … too few invest the time and money to make this happen”.
“We are all acutely aware of the productivity gap which exists in the UK and the dynamic nature of the global economy, which is only set to intensify,” she said.
“I am not suggesting every business follows the Co-op into sponsoring academies, but industry can offer schools and their pupils so much more – from providing senior managers as governors to offering structured work experience programmes and site visits.”
Ms Wicks highlighted that the Co-op Group has seen its investment in academies create a “win / win all-round”.
“The academies we have sponsored have all seen improvements and pupils’ aspirations have been raised, while our colleagues have benefited greatly from being directly involved in this journey.”
Speaking at the launch of the Co-op Academies Trust annual report, Ms Wicks said the retailer was looking “to help those communities that have the greatest educational challenges and need additional help to support their young people.”
She added: “The effect of a good school that was previously failing or weak is immense in regenerating communities and we have established a great track record of turning around schools, which were previously struggling.”
The annual report shows that all the Co-op academies inspected by Ofsted in the past two years have received a “good” rating. The Group estimates that 250-300 candidates will join the organisation by 2022 through the academies programme.
Frank Norris, director of the Co-op Academies Trust, believes co-operative values and principles, strong governance and the ability to leverage the support of the Co-op Group “can have a dramatic impact on school improvement”.
“Co-op colleagues serve as school governors and provide mentoring and careers advice along with work placement support,” he says, adding that increasing 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.
“By providing a great education, Co-op Academies are changing the lives of thousands of young people.”