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Co-operative Model in Education (Portsmouth)

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2008

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David.]

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter that is very important indeed, namely how we can use co-operative values to improve education in such places as Portsmouth. I am very pleased that we have opened the first co-operative trust school, at Reddish Vale technology college. I want to explore whether this approach would help to raise educational attainment in my constituency of Portsmouth, North.

Nowhere is education more important than in such cities as Portsmouth, where throughout the ’80s and early ’90s too many of our young people were denied their chance in life, held back by crumbling schools and chronic underinvestment from central Government. Too many people who, given the opportunity, would have gone far were left without qualifications or skills.

It is fair to say that since 1997 the situation has markedly improved. In Portsmouth, planning has begun on a five-year project to redesign, rebuild, refurbish or remodel all the city’s secondary schools between now and 2012, as part of the Building Schools for the Future project. Results are improving, too. In 1997, only 26 per cent. of our young people in Portsmouth, North got five good GCSEs. That figure has now doubled to 54 per cent., but that means that nearly half our young people are still missing out.

The issue is not just about qualifications; it is about self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence, about giving young people the belief that they, too, can succeed—the self-belief that in many middle-class homes is instilled from the very start. Still too many young people in Portsmouth think that university is the preserve of the middle classes and something that “isn’t for them”. Too many still leave school to take low-paid work, with no prospect of training or advancement.

Education is vital—too vital, I think, to be left to the academic world alone. Mutuo, the co-operative think-tank, has suggested that

“there is now a need and an opportunity to develop new solutions and models of service delivery that can unleash the benefits of commitment from a wider range of stakeholder groups.”

I wholeheartedly agree. City academies and trust schools go some of the way, but for them really to work, they must be truly accountable. That is where co-operative principles come in. With the move towards trust schools, there is a unique opportunity for co-operatives to influence and develop schools further, to build on existing experience and to forge closer links with the local community. Parents, teachers and local people would all have the opportunity to become trust members and would all be able to have their say about daily decisions and the priorities of most importance to them.

One of the biggest challenges, especially in socially deprived areas, is ensuring that parents have the confidence and the skills to play their part. If the parents have had a bad experience in school, they are understandably reluctant to come forward. The modern co-operative movement has a proud record of community participation and involvement over its long history. Co-operative trust schools will be able to draw on considerable experiences to deliver results.

By the end of last year, some 300 schools across England were either trust schools or in the pipeline to become trust schools. In my view, through greater collaboration and through mergers of successful schools, we can pave the way to achieving the rising standards that we seek.

For the co-operative movement, engagement with education is nothing new. Education and opportunity have been driving co-operative ideals since the very beginning. Education was one of the guiding principles of the Rochdale pioneers, who are generally regarded as the founders of the modern co-operative movement. As co-operative societies became successful, they quickly developed their own educational programmes, together with reading rooms, libraries, meeting halls, and social and cultural activities. By the late 19th century, they had created national structures to share resources and materials, and had introduced classes, study programmes and examinations for members. They pioneered correspondence courses and study circles, formed their own college, and supported the development of co-operative colleges in many other parts of the world. Active engagement and a clear set of values that resonated with the schools were the formulae for success.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and fellow Labour/Co-operative MP for giving way. She is perhaps about to mention the fact that the co-operative movement also developed its own political party, a sister party to the Labour party. Is she surprised that, on the Benches opposite, where there has been a recent expression—

Order. It is out of order, in an Adjournment debate of this kind, to make a point of that nature. This is a personal motion that has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry).

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. That is a point that I might come back to later in my speech.

The set of values and commitment to active engagement was also one of the reasons why many of the schools became part of the network and clearly wanted to work with co-operative enterprises. But what does a co-operative model mean for education in the early part of the 21st century? Are co-operative values still relevant? I believe so. By harnessing co-operative values in education, we can raise standards and ensure greater parental and community involvement. A co-operative model means that, rather than pitting school against school, we can increase collaboration and co-operation among schools in order to share best practice and resources. My right hon. Friend and fellow co-operator the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has suggested that there is

“significant future potential for a co-operative model”

in education, and I quite agree. If we think about what makes a good school, it is clear that the involvement of teachers, pupils, parents and the community is what makes that good school successful. It is precisely this involvement that co-operative values are able to instil.

One of the reasons that I am proud to be a Labour and Co-operative MP is that co-operative socialism is not just a lofty set of ideals divorced from everyday life, but practical politics with a strong history of delivery. Building on its strong and long-standing commitment to education, the co-operative and mutual sector is now actively engaged with a number of schools. It is working with a number of specialist business and enterprise colleges, and is playing a key part in the Manchester academy programme.

By instilling co-operative values and ideas into the curriculum, schools have seen a dramatic effect, significantly enriching the experiences of young people. Levels of student attainment and Ofsted reports clearly demonstrate the benefits of using co-operative values to deliver the breadth of curriculum areas and personal development. Schools using the values as a framework have made exceptional progress in raising levels of achievement. For example, Sir Thomas Boughey high school and co-operative business and enterprise college in Staffordshire has raised the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs from 46 per cent. in 2004 to 79 per cent. in 2007.

As I said earlier, as well as instilling co-operative values as part of the curriculum, the first co-operative trust school has now opened at Reddish Vale technology college. It is the first of its kind in the UK to be based on a mutual structure, with a wide range of organisations focusing on education and training, employability and local regeneration. Jenny Campbell, the head teacher of Reddish Vale, has said:

“The Trust is a fantastic opportunity for local people to have a greater role in the life of the school. We hope that as the trust develops it will enable better life-long opportunities to all those involved. As the trust develops it will be down to the members who will volunteer to make a difference locally. The developments will give huge opportunities for the curriculum inside school, linked to a wider learning community across Reddish and Brinnington.”

There is now a clear potential to develop these new models for trust schools—

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important Adjournment debate? Does she welcome the fact that there is an application in for a co-operative trust in a performing arts school, the Lipson community college in Plymouth, which will build real community cohesion in a way that Conservative Members, on the basis of the spin we hear from them, simply cannot hope to achieve?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and I am very pleased to hear about those developments in Plymouth. Perhaps if we can get a similar model in Portsmouth, we can draw on Plymouth’s experiences to help us to move it forward.

We have seen new mutuals in other parts of the UK public sector—leisure trusts and foundation hospital trusts, for example, which are models built on traditional public sector values. They are rooted in and actively engage the local community in running key services.

I think there are three main reasons to develop the co-operative model. First, it draws on a long-established heritage of self-help and self-improvement and a globally shared set of values, which could make a positive contribution to the outcomes schools are seeking to deliver and provide the basis for a distinct contribution to diversity of provision. Secondly, the co-operative approach is based on offering membership to different groups of people with an interest in education, such as parents, staff and the local community, and provides a mechanism for active engagement of those stakeholders. Finally, it can provide a mechanism for accountability, helping to ensure that those in positions of responsibility remain sensitive to the needs, views and aspirations of the different groups of interested people, and that the respective views of these stakeholders can be balanced in an appropriate way to suit the needs of the organisation. That is how accountability can become a driver of efficiency and success.

The co-operative trust school model offers opportunities to build new channels of engagement locally, involving students, parents, employers, further and higher education providers and local organisations. If successfully channelled through the trust, it should enable the school to strengthen links with the local community and benefit from the support of a wide range of local expertise.

Educational research has repeatedly demonstrated that one of the most important factors in improving educational achievement is raising the level of parental involvement. Offering membership of the trust to parents—not just those of the young people currently attending the school, but those of its feeder schools and destination colleges—could provide a powerful mechanism for actively engaging them in their children’s learning.

Perhaps of even greater significance are the opportunities in an educational establishment for member development. An important element of the co-operative heritage is the part played by the co-operative organisation in providing opportunities for members to develop their own potential through education, participating in their organisation and using the membership processes for self-improvement. Lifelong learning has been a core element of a co-operative approach for many years. In areas of high deprivation and social need, that could be significant.

I acknowledge your earlier ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is important to mention the so-called Conservative co-operative movement. I had expected the Conservative Benches to be brimming with people and ideas about how we can embed co-operative values into cherished public services. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has said that it is a “shame” that the co-operative movement is associated with the left. I am sorry to disappoint him, but I would contend that that is no accident, because it is the Labour party that has unstintingly supported co-operatives over the years—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We should not forget that it was the Building Societies Act 1986 that enabled massive waves of demutualisation—in typical Tory fashion, promoting a get-rich-quick scheme for the few at the expense of everybody else. Nor should we forget that it was the Tory Government who abolished the co-operative development agencies, which provided support for social enterprises, or that we had to wait for a Labour Government before we could update co-operative legislation in Parliament.

It is indeed Labour that has the proven track record with the co-operative movement. It includes 29 Labour/Co-op MPs and I am delighted to see so many of them in their places supporting this evening’s debate. We have conducted a review of co-operative and credit union legislation and backed the establishment of new mutuals in all sorts of areas, including, of course, the launch of the Reddish Vale technology college. That is what Labour and the co-op movement have achieved together—not making speeches or jumping on bandwagons, but taking solid action built on our shared values. The Opposition continue to talk about those issues, but they are merely copying their neighbours’ work—something that was very much frowned upon when I was at school!

How do we take this issue forward? I will discuss with the LEA and local schools how the co-operative approach could work in Portsmouth. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, as a Labour and Co-operative Member, takes a profound interest in co-operative values, and how we can embed them in our public sector organisations, particularly in education.

Does the Minister agree that an expansion of the co-operative model would be an excellent way of achieving the step change in educational achievement in constituencies such as mine? What help and support could he offer LEAs such as Portsmouth, and individual schools, if they went down that route? Education is the key to unlocking the potential of all our young people, and we owe it to them to do all that we can to achieve that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and I discussed whether there was a model for a mutual response by Ministers to an Adjournment debate from the Dispatch Box. We decided, however, that such a response would probably be ruled out of order. It falls to me, with the silent co-operation and support of my mutual and right hon. Friend, to respond to the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) on securing the debate. She is a strong advocate of her constituents’ interests, and her speech demonstrates her obvious passion for improving schools in Portsmouth. As Schools Minister, I very much share that passion. I was in Portsmouth recently to discuss education with some of her constituents. The trust school model, and particularly a co-operative trust school model, can help us to achieve such improvement, not just in Portsmouth but across the country.

Collaborative and co-operative working is essential for raising standards across public services, particularly in schools. We want to use every ounce of vision, talent and know-how that we can muster from across the statutory, private and third sectors to improve outcomes for young people. Trust arrangements are a crucial way of capturing that. At their heart, trusts have governance models that encourage sustainable relationships with external partners that can bring renewed drive and expertise to the school. Partners can vary from universities and businesses to charities and community groups, and they can work with one school or across a number of schools nationally or locally. There is no one blueprint for what a trust looks like.

What all arrangements have in common is the capacity to transform schools for the better. That, to use the parlance of the day, is their raison d’être. We know from the experience of voluntary-aided schools and academies that long-term relationships with external partners strengthen the ethos and leadership of a school. They can also help us to create a more diverse and enriched system, providing greater choice and opportunity for pupils and partners. For all those reasons, the Government are actively encouraging schools to acquire trust status.

Since we introduced the arrangement last September, 42 trust schools have begun operating, and a further 270 are in the pipeline. I am delighted to say that the Co-operative college is currently acting as a trust partner for six schools, in Doncaster, Stockport—we have heard about Reddish Vale from my hon. Friend—Newcastle, Norfolk, Essex, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith), and Kingston upon Hull. Clearly, where trust arrangements can help us to put more control over schools in the hands of parents and the communities that they serve, we should warmly encourage them. That is very much the spirit of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North, and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

My hon. Friend has explained the co-operative movement’s links with schools and the local community in Portsmouth. Of course, that makes it a very interesting potential trust partner for the area. I agree with her that acquiring trust status would allow the movement to build further partnerships with schools, as well as forging stronger community links between education providers, businesses and other local partners. I am sure that the co-operative movement would have a great deal to contribute in Portsmouth, helping to drive up standards through a formal long-term working relationship with local schools. I would welcome further discussions between my officials and the movement to take that forward. I will return to that towards the end of my speech.

There is also an important national context, which could be very exciting for the future of schools around the country. As my hon. Friend points out, the co-operative model for trust schools is already being trialled—I have listed the schools involved. Much mention has been made of Reddish Vale technology college, and the Andrew Marvell business and enterprise college is another example. Both are pathfinder trust schools.

We are therefore already laying the ground for getting the co-operative movement more involved in education. I believe that its influence can grow in the months and years ahead. My officials are already in discussion with the co-operative movement about a possible national model for co-operative trust schools. I look forward to receiving their detailed proposals with interest, because I see real, unique strengths in co-operative trust schools: a strong set of values informing the ethos of the school—values that are rooted in community self-help, as my hon. Friend described, in ethical enterprise and in achieving more together than on our own. That ethos in turn creates a strong stakeholder model involving parents, staff and pupils in producing an education service that meets the needs of, and is directly accountable to, its local community.

We know that the biggest determinant of a good school is well-led, strong teaching. We know that the biggest determinant of the success of a child is good parenting. We know that pupil involvement in schools and their own learning improves results further. Co-operative schools are a fantastic opportunity to deliver all three of those things. This is the opportunity to do that, with this Government delivering on co-operative schools.

Some comment has been made contrasting our approach with that of the Opposition, who are, sadly, not in their places. Their foray into this territory appears no more than a cheap attempt to grab a few headlines—another “here today, gone tomorrow” cheap trick.

Does my hon. Friend agree it is not possible to laminate a political philosophy like co-operation on to an unacceptable party such as the Tories and hope that they will get away with it in this context or, indeed, in any other?

I mentioned the importance of values in informing the ethos of co-operative schools, and the values that the co-operative movement stands for are not the sort that can be invented overnight. They are written into our DNA as a party and movement. They cannot be magicked into existence for the purpose of a press release. In, I think, November last year, the Leader of the Opposition launched the Conservative co-operative movement with a grand hurrah, specifically mentioning the idea of co-operative schools. Obviously, they had already been invented. He had come to that a little late. Since then, however, we have heard, well, nothing. Where are they now? Nowhere. I have tried to find out more. I visited www.conservativecoops.com. The site has a few stories about food co-ops on its one page and nothing more. There is nothing about schools. The Conservative party’s commitment to co-ops is devoid of values, substance or any action. No surprise there then.

We can remain confident that Labour is the party of co-operation. It is written into our DNA, as I said, and we will continue to develop mutualism and co-operation in the public sector, championed by, among others, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is, I think, the third Cabinet member to be a Co-operative Member of Parliament; the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith)—I am delighted to see her in the Chamber—my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), who was, I think, the second Cabinet member to be a Co-operative MP; and my other hon. Friends who are here this evening.

Let me return to the specific situation in Portsmouth and make a suggestion that may help my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North. She should be aware that the local authority in Portsmouth is currently considering its plans for wave 6 of Building Schools for the Future, the capital programme for building and refurbishing schools. We are very interested in how we can link capital improvements to schools in an area to improvements in the diversity and self-governance of schools. In other words, we want to renew both the fabric and the philosophy and governance of schools at the same time, to maximise the impact.

We expect local authorities to look carefully at the potential benefits of bringing new providers into the system and enhancing parental choice. That of course involves considering whether trust partnerships can add value to the process of rebuilding and realigning schools in their area.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the co-operative governance model offers opportunities to bind in businesses such as those in Plymouth’s cultural industries with institutions such as the performing arts college in Lipson that no other model can really offer?

I certainly agree with that. It is some time since I visited Lipson community college, but I was very impressed by what I saw there. Plymouth is a centre for the creative industries, and if that college can pursue a co-operative trust model and bind in long-term relationships on the basis of co-operative principles and a co-operative ethos while incorporating strong partners from the creative industries in the region and the sub-region around Plymouth, it will be an extremely good proposition for parents and learners in my hon. Friend’s city.

I do not know the extent to which my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North has discussed the matter with her local authority, but this would clearly be a good time for her to do so, because it should be on the authority’s agenda as one of a range of options for raising school standards. I am sure that the authority would welcome discussion with the co-operative movement about the contribution that it could make in her city.

The Government welcome with open arms any organisation or movement within reason—and certainly one as ethical as the co-operative movement—that demonstrates a clear, unambiguous commitment to improving the quality of schools through trust arrangements. Everything I know about the co-operative movement suggests to me that it can do exactly that in Portsmouth and across the country, so I welcome my hon. Friend’s championing of its cause. I hope very much that we shall see her efforts bear fruit in the form of improved standards, more choice, more stakeholder engagement and accountability in her city, and more control for parents and children in Portsmouth and beyond in the years to come.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes to Eight o’clock.