The current education system is more fragmented than at any point in the past 25 years. There are dramatic variations in schools’ success, and in the accountability they have to the communities they serve.
Many of Labour’s new academies showed that greater freedom, coupled with community control, can be a winning formula. They turned poor schools around, transforming the prospects of their students. However with this Government we have schools forced to become academies, many taken over by expansion-hungry chains which limit the involvement of parents, students and the wider community in how they are run.
This year I introduced a Bill into parliament to enshrine in legislation the structure of co-operative schools to allow communities a real say in their local schools. There are already over 600 across the country and the number is growing. Launched by the last Labour Government, the co-operative model ensures that everyone with a stake in the school’s success – parents, teachers, support staff, local community organisations and pupils – have the opportunity to be involved in running it.
As well as providing a framework for greater accountability and responsiveness, co-operative schools benefit from their links to the wider Co-operative movement with its tens of millions of members. Co-operative schools are well placed to raise aspiration and attainment by instilling in pupils co-operative values such as self-help, social responsibility, equality and a global outlook, delivered within a faith-neutral environment.
Emerging results show co-operative schools provide a well-rounded curriculum and equip pupils with the social and personal skills they need to thrive. This is a model that delivers academic excellence driven by local accountability.
But the legal forms of co-operatives are determined as Industrial and Provident Societies, or co-operative or community benefit societies. There is no provision in the relevant Acts for co-operative schools. Currently, the majority of these schools operate within an informal network of Co-operative Trusts.
So to secure a solid foundation for their continued development and expansion, we need to formalise the framework within which they operate. I have called on the Government to work with me and the Co-operative Party to bring forward legislation to ensure co-operative schools can work on a level playing field with other school structures.
This weekend’s Co-operative Party Conference in Edinburgh is an opportunity to confirm that if this Government fails to support co-operative schools the next Labour Co-operative administration will introduce legislation to strengthen the legal framework for co-operative schools. This is an important step to ensure the co-operative model is able to develop to serve local communities.
Meg Munn MP is the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley