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Co-operative Schools

Volume 561: debated on Wednesday 17 April 2013

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable schools to register as Industrial Provident Societies; to amend the Education Act 2006 to enable nursery schools to be established as school trusts; and for connected purposes.

The Department for Education’s vision, which is shared on both sides of the House, is for a highly educated society in which opportunity is more equal for children and young people, no matter what their background or family circumstances. I am presenting a Bill to take forward that vision, and part of that is about a society that values self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. These are the values of the co-operative movement and the Co-operative party, which I am proud to represent in Parliament, and of the Schools Co-operative Society, which is the co-ordinating body of co-operative schools.

Those values are also evident in co-operative trust schools, where everyone—teachers, parents, pupils and the local community—work together for their mutual benefit. Performance improves, pupils learn and are more engaged in the life of the school, and the best possible environment for young people to learn and develop is created. Everyone is encouraged to take responsibility for themselves, while the local community has a say in how the school is run. With a commitment to equality and equity, everyone is helped to be the best they can.

In 2008, Reddish Vale technology school in Stockport became the first co-operative trust school in England. Working with the co-operative college, it developed a co-operative model for foundation schools with a trust, following the enactment of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. In 2008, the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, spoke of the desire to see a

“new generation of cooperative schools...funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community.”

There is no sign, however, that this has been attempted. Academies have become the centrepiece of education policy. Nor has the free schools policy led to a new generation of parent-owned co-operatives. To date, just one of the free schools is expected to operate as a co-operative. Much is said about choice in education, but if this is to become a reality, we need to allow co-operative school trusts to flourish and remove the hurdles that make that difficult.

At the moment, the legal forms of co-operatives are determined as industrial and provident societies, or co-operative or community benefit societies, and there is no provision in the relevant Acts for co-operative schools. They have to work around the existing legislation in a clumsy and confusing way. Clause 1 of my very short Bill would therefore seek to amend Education Acts to include those legal forms and so ensure a level playing field with other school structures.

Despite the legal difficulties, in just five years, co-operative schools have become the third-largest grouping within the English education system, with currently more than 450 operating. Thirty have become co-operative converter academies, a few are co-operative sponsor academies and we have seen the creation of the first co-operative multi-academy trust. Those that have led the process are confident that growth will continue. So far, numbers have doubled every year, and with many more schools adopting this model, we can expect more than 1,000 schools to be using co-operative models by the time of the next general election.

The Co-operative college provides an effective support system, and the Schools Co-operative Society has been established as the national network of co-operative schools in England. Through the extensive network they have built, co-operative schools have access to mutual and targeted support to achieve the highest standards. They have developed a distinct model that enables schools to embed co-operative values into the ethos of the school. This also includes ethical values in keeping with those of the founders of the co-operative movement—openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others.

In Cornwall, a group of schools have joined together to protect their sense of community. The head teachers from Sir James Smith’s school, Helston community college and Upton Cross primary school have all spoken about the importance of solidarity and letting local people work towards a shared vision and mutual solutions in education. The newly formed Multi-Academy Trust in Barnsley works with three other schools and, through the establishment of the Pioneer Academies Co-operative Trust, has ensured that the community is at the heart of all it does. Lipson community college in Plymouth was an early co-operative trust school and is now a co-operative academy. Its arrangements for involving parents—Parent Voice—was recognised as outstanding in an Ofsted survey on parental and community engagement. Student Voice at da Vinci college in Derby gives pupils a real role in school decisions, allowing them to sit in on interview panels and join the staff on training sessions.

As the Secretary of State for Education has recognised, when extending the academies programme to primary schools, it is vital that children get the best foundation at primary level to realise their potential at secondary level. I agree, and I think we also need to get it right at nursery level. Many co-operative networks and co-operative trusts are based on strong geographical clusters. They wish to raise achievement by supporting young people from nursery to school-leaving age, yet the Education and Inspections Act 2006 prevents nurseries from setting up as school trusts. Nursery schools are in many ways the most naturally co-operative part of the education sector, with their engagement with parents and carers. Enabling nursery schools to become full members of trusts would strengthen that engagement in early years and help to develop the nursery-to-secondary vision of education that best enables young people to realise their potential. Consequently, clause 2 of my Bill would remove the relevant provisions in the 2006 Act and would enable nursery schools to be established as school trusts.

I believe that co-operative schools are well placed not only to ensure high standards of education, but to teach children that the values of co-operation have a great deal to offer. Pooling resources across schools is something to be welcomed at a time of austerity, but doing so at any time ensures a productive, collaborative approach and the most effective use of resources. For young people, the experience of supporting each other in school, along with seeing the support that the community and other co-operatives give, helps to shape character and inculcate a positive approach towards others. There is evidence that young people brought up in that environment continue to contribute to their communities long after they have left school. In the words of Pat McGovern, head teacher at Helston community college,

“The last thing the people of Cornwall want is to see a big education chain coming in to run school services and take money out of the area…Our co-operative is about a mutual solution to local needs.”

The education system should always be based on support, collaboration and co-operation at every level.

Question put and agreed to.


That Meg Munn, Mike Gapes, Mrs Louise Ellman, Mr Andrew Love, Meg Hillier, Mr Steve Reed, Seema Malhotra, Mr Barry Sheerman, Mr Gareth Thomas, Dan Rogerson and Andy Sawford present the Bill.

Meg Munn accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 April, and to be printed (Bill 160).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and I would be interested to know whether you had notice of a statement from the Minister for Sport on the remarkable news that was confirmed last night that, as of next season, as a result of Cardiff City’s promotion to the premier league last night, 10% of the clubs in the English premier league will in fact be Welsh.

I have received no notification of any such ministerial statement, but the statement, albeit one not of an official character and not by a Minister, has just been delivered by the hon. Gentleman.