MPs support the growth of co-operative schools

Legislation to secure the growth of co-operative schools, has been given support by MPs across a number of political parties.

Legislation to secure the growth of co-operative schools, has been given support by MPs across a number of political parties.

The House of Commons debate, chaired by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, was focused on the role of co-operatives in education. Secured by the Conservative MP Steve Baker, the discussion highlighted how the seven co-operative principles could apply to education.

“It seems to me that today, sometimes co-operative schools are succeeding despite obstacles. That may well be in the spirit of the co-operative movement, but it seems that the government ought to do more to ensure a crisp, simple and effective legal framework,” he said.

Mr Baker, MP for High Wycombe, explained how in his local constituency, Cressex community school is seeting an example that other schools should follow. In 2010 Cressex community school became part of the Cressex Co-operative Learning Trust.

According to Steve Baker, nearly half of Cressex students live on estates that are among the most economically disadvantaged in England, with areas of entrenched poverty and low skills.

Over 48 per cent of pupils studying at Cressex school are entitled to free school meals, which means that they gained five or more GSCEs at grade A* to C, including English and Maths. The results are the best in the history of the school, said Mr Baker. The school also hosts the Wycombe business expo.

Sarah Newton, Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth argued that co-operative trusts are a good way of providing education to deprived remote communities.

In Stockport, the Reddish Vale Technology College works with local nurseries and primary schools to achieve better results. Back in 2008, the College became the first co-operative trust school. This co-operative approach has benefited not only the College, but also the whole community, said Labour MP for Denton and Reddish,  Andrew Gwynne.

Steve Baker also agreed that the co-operative model could work in various areas across the UK, Cornwall being just one example where it has proved to be successful.

He argued that co-operative schools were not incompatible with the government’s free school programme, the first co-operative school due to be open in Swanage. Mr Baker encouraged the government to work more closely with the co-operative movement in establishing new free schools and helping academies to become co-operative trusts.

“I want us to get behind co-operative schools, and more broadly co-operatives in education, in the general interest, to transcend some of the partisan debate that has gone to and from, because I know that, in Wycombe, co-operative principles are transforming Cressex school.”

Co-operative schools empower local communities, avoiding many traps inherent in the fragmentation of education such as the abuse of power, said Labour/Co-op MP for Luton South, Gavin Shuker.

Edward Timson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, acknowledged the positive impact of co-operative schools.

“Schools working together leads to an increase in performance for all schools involved in that partnership, even for high-performing schools that support weaker schools”, he said.

Meg Munn, Labour/Co-op MP for Sheffield Heeley pointed out that the values of co-operation could be more appropriate for schools. Rather than focusing on competition, co-op schools help young people to see the world in a different perspective, working together with other schools to pool resources in a co-operative way.

“I support choice in education, but there are barriers that should be removed to allow more schools to follow the successful model of co-operation,” she said, arguing that the existing structures and legislation should be amended to enable co-operative schools to grow.

In April this year Ms Munn put forward a ten-minute role Bill that suggest allowing Education Acts to be amended to include co-operative schools, ensuring a level playing field with other school structures. Since there is no provision in the relevant Acts for co-operative schools, most of them currently operate within an informal network of Co-operative Trusts.

The Bill also touches upon the issue of co-operative nurseries. Under the Education and Inspection Act of 2006 nursery schools are not allowed to become school trusts, which prevents them from becoming co-operatives.

“The idea that a co-operative trust could be a school from nursery through to secondary level, and perhaps through to further education—those are other potential areas for the development of co-operatives that I will not deal with today—is powerful. Allowing it to happen is relatively simple, and we should do it,” she said. Co-operative nursing schools could enable parents to get involved in their child’s education and schooling from an early age.

Co-operative schools are now the third largest network of schools in the country, following Church of England and Roman Catholic school, with 714 schools, more than a quarter of a million pupils and over £4 billion worth assets transferred from local education authorities to co-operative trusts.

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