A report from the Co-op Party makes a set of recommendations for the future of education, “built on the co-operative principles which provide staff, parents, carers, pupils and communities with a voice in how their schools and nurseries are run”.
Ideas include a replication of the Co-op Group’s academies model to other co-op societies and the creation of co-operatively run careers services, with clients joining as members.
Policy officer Daniel Monaghan, who put together the Steps to Success: Lessons from Co-operatives in Education report, says it is designed to remedy issues arising from 12 years of education reforms under the coalition and Conservative governments, which have come alongside austerity measures which keep spending per pupil“below 2010 levels”.
He warns: “With the increase in academisation, the rise of free schools and the increased marketisation of early years, the sector has seen radical change in governance, accountability and affordability.”
The co-op model offers a way forward, he says, pointing to the Group’s Co-op Academies Trust and the Midcounties Co-op’s childcare business. “Already we are seeing the emergence of a new way of doing things … this contribution takes lessons from co-operatives delivering education and we hope will provide a useful input to a wider and ongoing debate.”
The report makes a long series of recommendations for the sector – in terms of early years and childcare, primary and secondary, and further education and apprenticeships.
For early years and childcare, it criticises a government consultation which looks at raising the staff to child ration in England from 1:4 to 1:5 to reduce childcare costs for families. This will have “a negative impact on child development” he says, bringing less focus on each child, and he calls for the original ratio to be maintained.
The report also calls for more funding for the childcare sector, which it says “is inadequate particularly in areas which are more reliant on state funding” and has hit salaries, causing a “shortage of qualified educators in the sector”; for raising the free childcare allowing from 15 hours to 30 for all children from two years old, and to extend eligibility to non-working families to improve educational outcomes.
Childcare professionals should also be eligible for the Skilled Worker Visa, the report adds, noting that Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have seen many EU workers return home, impacting staff retention in the sector.
For primary and secondary education, the report calls for a reversal of “real terms budget cuts suffered by schools since 2010” to help “reduce educational inequalities and attainment gaps which harm life outcomes and social mobility”.
Local accountability is also essential, it adds, highlighting the Co-op Academies Trust model with encourages trusts to “develop collaborative relationships with local education authorities” to develop agreed education plans “which drive local economic regeneration”.
The report also makes recommendations on improved pay and conditions for teachers, greater inclusion and fairness with universal free school meals for all state-funded school children, and end to VAT exemption for public schools, and a new funding formula for special educational needs provision.
Alongside ideas for more digital skills education and reform of the school inspection system, the report calls for more co-op societies to be encouraged to provide multi academy trust (MAT) provision.
“The success of the Co-op Academies Trust model demonstrates the benefits co-operative partners can bring MATs,” it says. “Co-operative partners can provide a coherent values platform, management expertise and democratic practices.
“Co-operative societies outside the north of England would be well-placed to sponsor or support MATs based on co-operative principles, helping to re-establish co-operative education provision throughout the UK.
“For example, Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust is based on co-operative principles and aims to bring a co-operative model to their academy chain. In the spirit of co-operative Principle 6, co-operatives and mutuals should support existing Co-op MATs and work to develop new ones. This would spread the principle of co-operation between co-operatives to the education sector.”
In apprenticeships and further education, the report calls for a “legal requirement to provide career services to people across the UK” which could be delivered by local authorities or career service co-operatives which local people could join as members.
There should also be targets for entry-level apprenticeship starts to improve social mobility for those who do not attain degrees, and to increase the flexibility of the Apprenticeship Levy spending criteria to allow skills development in more sectors of the economy.