[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Thank you for your kind words, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship in this important debate. I thank the Minister for being here. I know that liberating his time has caused his Department some inconvenience, and I am extremely grateful to him for being here willingly when his Department is so busy.
As the hon. Gentleman says, it is the Minister’s duty, but he has been most generous in the way he has approached the debate.
My reason for calling this debate is to support the Cressex school in my constituency, the young people it serves and the wider community from which they are drawn. It is undoubtedly the most disadvantaged community in my constituency. I want to cover the circumstances and successes of Cressex school, and the wider experience of co-operatives in education, and to ask the Government for action. I hope the Minister will forgive me if I say that although they have said some interesting and good things, they need to follow them through.
In a message of support, Dame Pauline Green, president of the International Co-operative Alliance, has set the definitive context for this debate. She said:
“Co-operatives have been involved in education from the very beginning, and there is an inextricable link between education and co-operative development. That is why we continued to place great emphasis on education when the co-operative principles were last revised in 1995, and why new guidance notes strongly reaffirm the importance of co-operative education.”
When I visited the Rochdale Pioneers museum, I was pleased to discover two things that explained a lot to me: autonomy, which I will return to, and the fact that one of the principles of co-operation has always been to educate, train and inform.
They had very good PR. A couple of things struck me. First, they did not trade on credit, so people did not get into debt to consume, which is an interesting lesson for present times. Secondly, they made a surplus. They did not like to call it a profit, but they realised that they had to make a surplus over time, and doing so enabled them to succeed. A lot of interesting language was involved in that conversation, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his information.
In April 2010, Cressex community school became part of the Cressex Co-operative Learning Trust. I remember my first visit to the school after the election because I encountered a defiant spirit of autonomy and independence. There was a whisper of forced academisation because of its results, but there was fierce determination to remain a co-operative because of the way that the co-operative structure allows all parties to be engaged across the community.
The proper context of the results includes the selective system. As a Conservative in Buckinghamshire, I am expected to support selective education, but a whole tier of students at Cressex has been taken off to another school, which naturally depresses the overall results. There is no denying that Buckinghamshire county council is one of the most affluent in the south-east, but a high proportion of Cressex students and their families experience levels of disadvantage equal to those in northern cities. 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. The proportion of families with experience of higher education is below the national average and the proportion of children living in overcrowded households exceeds the national average. More than half of students have been eligible for free school meals in the past six years and are entitled to the pupil premium.
Although Wycombe has an ethnic minority population of around one fifth, 80% of the school’s pupils are from minorities and the school now receives increasing numbers of students from eastern Europe. Crucially, about three quarters of the students do not speak English as their first language. That is the context for Cressex school, and that is the challenge to which it must rise.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Deprivation is found not only in urban areas. There is considerable deprivation in remote rural communities such as Cornwall. In areas such as the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, we have often found co-operative trusts to be a good way of providing education to deprived remote communities where there are lots of small primary schools that face challenges in delivering high-quality education. Does my hon. Friend agree that the model can work for a broad range of communities throughout the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come to the success of the model elsewhere, but I am aware that it has been a rip-roaring success in Cornwall. I originally come from Cornwall, which reminds me that we tend to focus on our own constituencies. There is rural poverty in Wycombe, but the rural part of my constituency is generally the better-off part. We still live in times of considerable inequality throughout the country and in our constituencies, and that focuses the mind.
Reddish Vale technology college in my constituency was the first co-operative trust school to be established under the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The Reddish part of my constituency is a deprived community and it has used the excellence at that school to engage with the wider community and to spread those co-operative values not just within the school community, but to the wider Reddish community. Is that not an example of co-operation in action?
Absolutely. I think we are in danger of fierce agreement in the Chamber.
Cressex school is keen to support business and enterprise, and that demonstrates its wider commitment. In particular, it hosts the Wycombe business expo. The principles of co-operation and engagement allow a school to reach out more broadly.
I turn to the challenge to which Cressex must rise. Last year, 36.4% of pupils across England who were known to be entitled to free school meals gained five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C, including English and maths, but Cressex did better. At the time, 39.1% of students were receiving free school meals. Over the last six years, the number achieving those GCSEs has risen to 48%. Of course, the school aims higher than 48%, but it represents a dramatic improvement in results and they are the best in the history of the school.
The head teacher, David Hood, recently provided details. Of the students who left year 11 in 2013, 46.5% gained five or more GCSE passes including English and maths, a rise from 27% in the previous year, and 64.8% gained five or more GCSEs in any subject. The overall results represent a considerable increase over the previous year.
To someone who has chaired a Select Committee for many years, that sounds really good, but when such figures are read out I sometimes insist that we ask how many pupils left with no qualifications or barely one GCSE, as 25% of kids at our schools do. It is important to get the balance right when looking at the figures.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is of course right that we sometimes forget to look at such points. It is crucial that no one should be left behind and the ethos of the school, as he will appreciate, is that the co-operators involved are determined to lift everyone up. I appreciate his point and I apologise that I do not have that information to hand.
Mr Hood made the point that performance in all core subjects rose markedly. In particular, Cressex has risen well above the national average in maths for the first time. He said that that is an exceptional achievement and he is right. Cressex is improving itself, which goes back to the point about defiant spirit. Cressex does not wish to have a model imposed on it; it is improving itself.
I have been on a journey, discovering something of the traditions of the left and the co-operative movement, and to me, that was the essential thing to understand. It is about self-help—a difficult term for a Conservative to use—mutuality, self-responsibility, direct democratic control, equality and solidarity. Such terms are perhaps vexed for Conservatives, but separated from state power, they actually just represent values and ideals that any fully formed human being should support. That, to me, explains the defiant spirit of autonomy that I found. Those values are being used by the Cressex school to engage with the community around it, and they are values transforming the lives and prospects of individuals whom we cannot allow to fall into neglect. Those people must be supported with a degree of delicacy if they are to flourish, which, in the end, is what we want for all the people in our constituencies, irrespective of their voting habits.
I turn to what it means to be a co-operative, and how Cressex has applied some of those principles. In the co-operative statement on identity, we find a definition that I think anyone could support and welcome:
“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”
That crucial element of voluntarism surprised me. I hope that Members on the left will forgive me if I say that I have always misunderstood socialism to mean compulsion, and I was amazed to discover that on the left, there is this great tradition of voluntarism. When I look down through the values—
“ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others”—
who could possibly disagree with them?
I turn to the principles: “Voluntary and Open Membership”—of course, a school should certainly comply with that. When I look at “Democratic Member Control”, I start thinking that the Government need to act, because it seems to me that across the whole suite of policy areas in education, the Government need to ensure that when parents, staff and others in the community are engaged in a school, they have the opportunity for their democratic control to be meaningful. The next principle is “Member Economic Participation”—although I paid £1 to become a member of Cressex co-operative, it does not seem to me, unless an Opposition Member would like to correct me, that anyone is immediately leaping to suggest that there should be economic participation in schools. However, “Autonomy and Independence”—what a marvellous idea, which seems to go directly to the heart of the Government’s policies. We then have “Education, Training and Information”, “Co-operation among Co-operatives”, and “Concern for Community”.
Those are some of the values that the Cressex co-operative trust has implemented, and which I think could allow other schools to follow suit, particularly where they are smaller and need to combine in order to be viable. The partnership with Cressex school has included Buckinghamshire New university, Dr Challoner’s grammar school, Wycombe Abbey school, the local authority and the Co-operative college.
After years of campaigning, the school moved into a new building, which certainly lifted spirits, and I have to say that we are grateful to the previous Government and all those involved locally for giving us those new premises. The community’s values were naturally aligned to those of the co-operative movement, and particularly the notion of being values-driven and faith-neutral, which, in my constituency, is highly relevant. The community engages actively, and as I mentioned in response to an intervention, is a specialist business and enterprise school.
I am particularly pleased that Johnson & Johnson’s Dr Cesar Rodriguez Valdajos, a Spaniard, has engaged with the school and become a governor. At a time when we are challenging how capitalism is working and where it has gone wrong, it is particularly interesting that someone from Johnson & Johnson has engaged with the school. When capitalism previously failed, that company showed, through its credo, how private enterprise could step up. What I find encouraging is that the notion of enterprise being people-centred is actually highly inclusive. Wycombe Abbey school is one of the finest independent girls’ schools in the country, and its engagement with Cressex has been not only crucial but mutual, because it is in those sixth-form pupils’ interests that they engage with the school and help with literacy and numeracy.
Crucially, the pupils share the school’s co-operative vision and values. As a former head boy told the governors recently:
“High achievement for all is certainly our shared responsibility. I can say for a fact that Cressex is a rising star. It’s climbing to the top and I am proud to be head boy.”
I have to say that Cressex has travelled a long way very quickly, since when I first visited the school as a candidate and saw a collection of prefab buildings and some people who were rather long in the face. There were some poor results, but Cressex is transforming itself very rapidly.
I am aware of the time, and that other Members would like to speak, so I shall abridge some of my other remarks on other co-operatives, but I particularly want to point to the experience of Mondragon university from the Library debate pack. Mondragon university is a Spanish institution owned by its staff, and an article, in the course of describing it, interviews a British academic, saying that
“many of the principles on which cooperatives are based are not necessarily that radical in higher education. Cook”—
“points out that the University of Cambridge ‘is already configured as a sort of workers’ co-op’ because every academic is part of the governing body…he adds: ‘I don’t think anyone has told them yet.’”
Therefore, it may well be that co-operatives are more advanced in the United Kingdom at all levels than has generally been believed.
Co-operative schools are now the third largest network of schools in the country, following Church of England and Roman Catholic schools. More than a quarter of a million young people attend a co-op school and more than £4 billion of assets have been transferred from local education authorities to co-operative trusts. In September 2011, co-op trusts ran 63 secondary schools. There are now 94 and the figure is predicted to be 102 by December. In the same period, co-op primary schools increased from 76 to a surprising 389, which is predicted to be 444 by December. Overall, co-operative schools have grown from 188 in September 2011 to a predicted 714 in December this year. That is an astonishing vote in support of autonomy and self-governance in relationship with others. To me, it is an enormous endorsement of liberty and civil society, and I believe that the Government should row in behind it.
The first co-op free school will be in Swanage, which demonstrates that co-ops are not incompatible with the Government’s free school programme. However, I look ahead to 2014, and I must say to the Government that at this time there are real imperatives for action, because about half of secondary schools and almost 90% of primaries still need to determine their long-term structure. There is every likelihood that they could choose to be co-operatives. If co-operation is a necessary requirement to enable small schools to flourish, the Government certainly need to act fast to put in place whatever is necessary to allow co-operation to thrive.
The Government ought not to fear co-operatives. I know that the co-operative movement began with figures such as Robert Owen, who was a utopian socialist, but the values and principles, and the place reached by the co-operative movement today, are not to be feared by people on the Government side of the House of Commons. Co-operatives are, above all, people-centred businesses, and it strikes me that co-operatives can resolve a number of conflicts of interest and ideology.
On markets versus collectivism, we have democratic, collective ownership of property, and yet co-operatives participate—and always have participated—in markets. I observe that one of the crucial reasons why state socialism can never work is that it eliminates markets in capital goods. Co-operation does not do that.
On employer versus worker, the Co-operative party’s website recognises that producer interest can effectively be dealt with through co-operation. I would suggest that some problems that the Government are currently experiencing could be ameliorated if more schools were directly controlled by parents, staff and the community, so that not only were industrial relations easier from the outset, but if difficulties did arise, they would be easier to resolve, because it would be clear who was negotiating with whom, and to what end.
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. I do not wish to pre-empt the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), but I would like to ask the Government to look closely at the ten-minute rule Bill that she brought forward. She proposed a measure that would enable schools to register as industrial and provident societies and enable nursery schools to be established as school trusts. That seems an extremely good idea, not only to complete that scale of education from nursery through to—it turns out—university level, but to ensure that things are viable and sustainable. I expect the Government to go down that road because of what has been said, and I would like to provide a little detail on what has gone before.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education said:
“First, let me pay tribute to the work of the co-operative movement. Since it started in Rochdale, many of us have been inspired by its achievements. I believe that the academies programme and particularly the free schools programme provide an opportunity for the ideals of the original co-operative movement to be embedded in our schools. The idea that all work together for the good of their community and for the fulfilment of higher ideals is one that Government Members wholeheartedly applaud.”—[Official Report, 16 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 468.]
Cabinet Office Ministers have been outspoken in support of co-operatives. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General said of mutuals and the Government’s policies:
“The right to provide will challenge traditional public service structures and unleash the pent up ideas and innovation that has been stifled by bureaucracy.”
That chimes directly with the Co-operative party’s message that co-operative models offer the best model for the reform of the public services or public service delivery.
In November 2007, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke of co-operatives in Manchester and developed arguments leading to the tantalising prospect of
“a new generation of co-operative schools in Britain—funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community.”
In January 2012, he also held out the prospect of a new co-operatives Bill. Without wishing to give succour to Opposition Members, I say gently to the Government that the Prime Minister ought now to find time to bring forward that Bill, encompassing the proposals of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, if we are to avoid the allegation of mere posturing. 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 fro, because I know that, in Wycombe, co-operative principles are transforming Cressex school. Those principles are proving increasingly popular across the country.
Today, a revolution in autonomy for schools is taking place, but it seems to me that it is taking place despite obstacles, so I ask the Government please to work more closely with the co-operative movement in establishing new free schools and helping academies to become co-op trusts. Will they bring forward the co-operatives Bill and will they look closely at the hon. Lady’s proposals? I am sure that Ministers will be welcome at Cressex school if they wish to see how it works in practice.
The Government ought just to do the right thing. Principles of co-operation entrench liberty and civil society. They produce self-esteem, confidence and resilience. They are evidently popular with the public. The Government should now move heaven and earth to liberate the co-operative spirit in education.
Thank you, I think, Mr Hollobone. It is a delight to take part in the debate. Of course, I must start by congratulating the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) not just on having secured the debate and established such good cross-party support for it, but on his speech. He spoke very eloquently of the reasons why some of us in this room have been co-operators for many a decade, not just many a year. I warmly welcome him to the cause of co-operation. It is everything he says it is and should be spread more widely, not least in our schools. I have always been proud to be a Labour Member of Parliament, but I am more proud to be a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament. Some of my colleagues also bear that title. Other Labour Members do not stand as Labour and Co-operative, but are members of the Co-operative party. It is a set of principles and a vision that are widely shared.
I shall not repeat what the values are, as the hon. Gentleman has done justice to that. I shall simply say that I wholeheartedly agree with him that the values of co-operation could not be more appropriate for schools. This is about having all parts of the community—not just the teachers and parents, but people from the community and pupils—involved in the schools. It is about helping them to understand what it means to take on responsibility for themselves, helping them to understand that they have a role in the school and embedding the school firmly where it is—in its local community.
We heard the excellent example from the hon. Gentleman of the school in his constituency that has done so much to persuade him of the values of co-operation, but that is happening up and down our country. We are talking about values such as business and enterprise, and values that are enabling young people to think about going into the world of work, but in a different way—not a competitive way that is unhelpful, but one that focuses on the benefits of co-operation.
Real strength and depth is emerging in parts of the country, including the south-west, my own beloved Yorkshire and Humberside and the north-west, which I am sure we will hear from. Of course, Cornwall, which I am sure the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) will speak about in due course, is looking to become the first county in the country in which the majority of schools work together mutually to pool resources in co-operative ways. This revolution in structures and governance is gaining momentum, and we should all be supporting it. That is why I want the Government to take more seriously the proposals that I made back in April this year in my ten-minute rule Bill.
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. As the hon. Member for Wycombe said, the legal forms currently available are industrial and provident societies and co-operative and community benefit societies. There is no specific provision in relevant Acts for co-operative schools, so although they have done well so far and they exist, they are having to work around the existing structures and legislation. They have been helped enormously in that by the relevant parts of the co-operative movement, Co-operatives UK and the Schools Co-operative Society, but that is not enough. We want this to go further.
I am an optimist: I believe that one clause could deal with the issue. Of course, it would be a powerful clause. I have a draft of the Bill that I put forward, and would be delighted to pass it to the Minister later. It suggests that we allow Education Acts to be amended to include the legal forms that I just mentioned and ensure a level playing field with other school structures. Of course, I know that any legislation has to stand up to proper scrutiny. I would warmly welcome the Government looking at what I have proposed and coming to a view on whether it is the right way forward. I would like to press the Minister on taking that forward.
As greater ammunition, is my hon. Friend aware that a change in the tax structure is coming out of the Treasury imminently and will be very helpful to co-operatives, community interest companies and social enterprise generally? Harnessed to that tax change, a change in regulation might be quite easy and simple to do.
I thank my hon. Friend. That is a very good point and will, I hope, add strength to what we would like to see. When I put forward my Bill in April, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who is now the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, was on the ministerial Bench and was kind enough to speak to me afterwards and to indicate that he thought this was something the Government should be looking at. Unfortunately, my letter to him either got lost in his office or disappeared somewhere when there was a transfer of responsibilities, but I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), would take back with him a commitment to come back to me and to the hon. Member for Wycombe on the Government’s view on this issue.
I believe that legislation as simple as the measure that I have described—a simple amendment allowing the Education Acts to be amended to recognise these forms of school—could enable us to move forward relatively quickly and, as the hon. Gentleman said, would firmly put action behind the warm words that we have heard about co-operatives from the Prime Minister and other members of the Government.
However, I have not limited myself to just one clause in my ten-minute rule Bill, because that would mean that part of the change that is needed would be missed out. My second clause focuses on nursery schools, to which the hon. Member for Wycombe referred. Labour Members have to hold their hands up; the Education and Inspections Act 2006, passed by the previous Government, did not allow nursery schools to become school trusts, and so prevented them from becoming co-operatives. We need legislation to change that. It is important because co-operatives, by their nature, are based in a geographical area that serves a group of people, otherwise known as the local community. 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.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. About two years ago, I visited Upper Shirley high school in Southampton, which is part of a co-operative trust with an all-through arrangement that includes a local FE college. There is also a co-operative trust in Tiverton in Devon. If the Government were able to look at the issues with nursery schools, that could be a powerful force to promote such all-through co-operative development trusts.
I entirely agree and am grateful for the example. The important aspect is that parents obviously first become involved with schools as institutions at nursery. They are often more likely to be present in the building, because they bring their children there, and possibly take part in parents’ groups, so if they were introduced to the values of co-operation at that point, they would see it as a normal way to get involved in their child’s education and schooling throughout the age groups.
One of the most powerful aspects of Sure Start, which the previous Government introduced, was that, in a non-threatening, non-stigmatising way, parents from all parts of society were made to feel welcome entering the building where their children were being supported in their education. I know from my constituency and my experience working in social services that many young parents who have had not good experiences in school do not like to cross the threshold, because doing so brings back bad memories. It is enormously powerful to involve, from that early point, the values of co-operation and support, and to say not only, “Come in, because your child is here,” but “Come in and have your say. We are all equal; all have equal membership.” From the first, it creates a different relationship between the parents and the people providing the education and support for children. The Minister should look closely at that second change.
My hon. Friend and I are both Co-operative Members, and she knows that I have set up a few co-operatives myself. Does she agree that being a co-operative is not a panacea? On this sad day of the demise of the Co-operative bank as an independent co-operative, it would be wrong of us, as Co-operative Members, not to put on the record that sometimes people get into co-operatives for reasons of venality, and that through incompetence things can go wrong. Full involvement in a co-operative is needed to stop that happening. Today is a sad day for many co-operators.
My hon. Friend has put his concerns on the record and he is absolutely right. There is strength in the co-operative movement; it is not about co-operative schools managing on their own and being separate academies or free schools, but about their being part of a movement that, as the hon. Member for Wycombe indicated, naturally gives support—there is support from Co-operatives UK and co-operative schools organisations —and sets up mutuality with other schools that can be helpful and supportive.
I want to respond to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said about the Co-operative bank—I am glad that is on the record. I would like to offer two points of comfort. First, given the way in which the credit markets were manipulated by central banks over the past few years—Members know that is one of my favourite subjects—no bank was likely to escape, so I am not surprised that the Co-operative bank was one that did not. Secondly, although we may be small in number, our spirit for co-operation is that of tigers. Co-operation’s moment has come. It will be victorious, and in future the co-operative movement will surge away.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. She touches on the power of co-operation outside the schools community. Co-operative schools do not act in isolation. I commend to her the work of Reddish Vale technology college, which has strong co-operative links with its local nurseries and primary schools. It feeds them, as equal members, into the co-operative principles and ideals that apply at the college, and works incredibly closely with them to drive up excellence in standards across all schools, not only those in the co-operative trust.
I apologise for missing the beginning of the debate; it was due to a Delegated Legislation Committee. Hon. Members know that I am a keen supporter of co-operatives. I planned to support the hon. Lady’s remarks with examples of co-operatives in Herefordshire, but as I had to sit through all the discussion and hearings about the Co-operative bank on the Treasury Committee, I cannot resist pointing out that there were specific issues with the bank that were not merely to do with the model it adopted, and a series of catastrophic misjudgments by successive managements. The issues with the bank should not be taken as an indictment of the co-operative model or the co-operative movement.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and welcome him to the debate. I welcome his support for co-operatives. I am moved to call him my fellow co-operator, which is the term those of us in the co-operative movement use. Welcome, fellow co-operator.
I am coming to a conclusion, Mr Hollobone. There is wide support for the changes, which the Government now need to action. The NASUWT, a trade union active in many schools, is supportive of the model. It creates, as has been discussed, a basis on which people come together as equal parts to run schools, try to achieve excellence and work in their communities. Everybody should see co-operation as fundamental to education. It should be part of the process, and is what will help all our children and young people to do their best. I thank all the co-operative movement: the Co-operative party, which produced an excellent briefing, and drafted the clauses for, and supported me in introducing, the ten-minute rule Bill; and the Schools Co-operative Society, which has been enormously important in ensuring that the schools that have taken on the model are supported, and that growth is achievable in a way that does not threaten the model.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on securing the debate and on his eloquence in furthering the arguments I support. Despite co-operatives and the co-operative movement having a strong association and history with the Labour party, not least through the 32 Labour and Co-operative MPs in this Parliament, of which I am one, it is praiseworthy that the ideas that power them are not owned by a political party. They are represented by a political party, but they are owned by all of us. It is incumbent on us, in each of our political traditions, to uncover those self-sustaining values for the time we are in now, and the hon. Gentleman has been a powerful advocate today.
I want to start by talking about some of the shifts that we have seen in education in recent years and conclude by talking about some of the ways in which the co-operative movement may be able to contribute to and shape that story, rather than merely being subject to it. We have already discussed several excellent co-operative schools across the country. Cressex, to which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) referred, is a fine and outstanding example of a co-operative school.
In Luton South we do not have a co-operative school, but we are keen to have one. Co-operative schools, and co-operative education in general, empower local people to take responsibility for the education that they best understand. Co-operative education avoids many of the traps inherent in the fragmentation of education that has occurred in recent years, particularly when it comes to the dispersal of power, which is abused in the education system more often than we tend to admit.
In the past 10 or 20 years, under successive Governments, control and responsibility for education has shifted from local authorities to individual schools. As many Opposition Members have argued in recent years, however, I believe that under the coalition Government we have seen an expression not of localism but of centralism. In other words, the Secretary of State has been given direct responsibility over individual schools. In Luton, we have real issues around community cohesion, we are a good size to allow democratic control to be exercised across all our schools, and schools working in partnership are a key part of where we hope to be in future and the kind of community that we seek to shape. Many of the Government’s choices and decisions have, therefore, been unfortunate for our attempts to pursue our ends.
Whatever we feel about the shift, under either of the previous two Governments, towards more individual schools taking responsibility, taking ownership and taking governance, the change has happened. We see that in the statistics on the adoption of the academy and free school models. Co-operative education provides a powerful mechanism for harnessing some of the positives of that shift, such as the exercise of leadership and good teaching quality, which we understand to be most crucial for raising standards in schools and the provision of education.
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that if he wants to be slightly subversive, the best example I have seen of a co-operative is one in which the pupils are empowered to help run the school through Learning to Lead? That combination is liberating and amazing, and it provides a revolutionary structure of governance. It now exists in more than 100 schools.
My hon. Friend does not anticipate my remarks, as is often said when someone makes a good point that we would like to adopt. He does, however, pre-empt my central argument about the distribution of power in the education system. How do we reap the benefits of allowing people to get on and lead in their own context, while sharing the responsibilities and ensuring that abuses of power do not take place, without sidestepping effective governance? That is where I believe that co-operative schools can be truly helpful.
In my own experience of mixed provision of education, public interest units can sometimes run schools autonomously, which can be good for local authorities. In Luton, two of our high schools became academies under the previous Government’s academies programme, which was designed for schools that were struggling to keep up with others. A further education provider came in and ran those schools. There has been, and continues to be, a strand of scepticism and concern in the community when schools are taken over, which we must acknowledge, but the education provider had a trusted relationship with the local authority and was able to step in and improve results.
A free school has opened in the centre of my constituency. It seemed bizarre to me that the only way in which we could get the basic primary school allocation of places was to bar the local authority from running the school, but we had to find a way to get that allocation, because there is a massive push on places. We found an arm’s-length council body to run the free school. It was a good example of how to use the existing system and to link it back into the community, and I believe that it is a really positive development.
In the mix of those different models, I believe that the co-operative model presents one of the best ways in which to harness elements of the co-operative tradition, even now, when the Labour party does not control but seeks to shape education policy in opposition. We should encourage local authorities and others to adopt the co-operative model to ensure that we reap the benefits of choice and autonomy in the education system. I note the comment of Peter Laurence, who is development director in the Brigshaw Federation, one of the first co-operative trusts in Leeds:
“We could all see the direction of travel of Government policy and the rapidly changing role of the LA. To us self-help is a natural solution.”
Is that not exactly the point? From the rich traditions of the co-operative movement, we find mechanisms that are appropriate to us today.
I am reluctant to introduce a note of discord into a debate that has been remarkably harmonious and valuable, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a potential conflict between the co-operative nature of a school and the demands of the unions, which may sometimes find themselves in opposition, as they have been in other areas of public service?
Brilliant as it is. I was going to say that if we look at the record of co-operative schools’ relationships with other partners, such as trade unions, we see that they perform incredibly well. I point to the Schools Co-operative Society, which has been able to establish nationwide a package of terms and conditions with the network of schools to ensure that that kind of strife does not occur.
I have seen several schools in my constituency convert either to trusts or to academies, and I know some of the fraught discussions that take place with staff at the schools during the conversions. May I highlight to my hon. Friend the fact that by converting first to a co-operative trust and subsequently to a co-operative academy, Reddish Vale technology college helped to ease some of the concerns of the staff because they had buy-in to the co-operative principle?
That makes the point entirely that the best way to harness leadership is not usually to parachute it in from outside—sometimes that has to be done if a school has failed the community consistently over a period of time, which usually comes down to school leadership—but to empower members of the community who, day in and day out, serve young people and families to get on and lead. That goes right to the heart of how the co-operative governance model works. Those are not simply structures; they are values. It is not about looking to see how we could design an over-engineered, so-called democratic arrangement. It is about saying that certain values of the co-operative movement, in particular the fair distribution of power, can be applied in education extremely well.
In the past few weeks questions, at least, have been raised, or investigations carried out, across the country, about the alleged misuse of power in a number of schools—and a DFE investigation is under way into several schools in my constituency that converted to academies and continued rapidly to adopt other schools. In my region the transition into academies or other types of governance, and the results of that, has been questioned. That has happened in Basildon, Thurrock and Luton; but a previous example in Derby at least raised the question of the fair exercise of power.
The advantage of the co-operative movement is not just the structure, but the ethos. However, the structure is a key factor: the idea that all of us with an interest in education locally can shape it locally and question the authority that is exercised, instead of constantly looking up and across to centralised power in Whitehall and Westminster, or to the immediate leadership of the school. In that way, the co-operative model can present a powerful, positive argument for allowing schools and communities to exercise their own power.
I was proud to grow up in a comprehensive system, with local democratic accountability through voting for and selecting councillors, portfolio holders and leaders, because the link with the community was not broken. Co-operative schools go right to the heart of that issue, and they present a different and powerful model for achieving such democratic control, in which the people who care most passionately about education—the parents, children, teachers, school leaders and governors—come together to share responsibility and power.
I want to ask the Minister about the level of capacity building that DFE is engaged in, particularly in local authorities, to encourage them to examine the co-operative model and consider it as an alternative route, alongside the many others that the Department provides. I understand from speaking to people in local authorities that there is still some misunderstanding about what a co-operative is. That should not surprise us, because we sometimes encounter the same degree of misunderstanding in Parliament, and such things may be difficult for people to get their head around. However, if we are to have genuine choice and to move away from one-size-fits-all comprehensive education, which I have talked about already, it is important to put all the options on the table, and not just some of them. If the Government were to do that they would have more supporters from across the House for their reform of education.
I have been called to speak earlier than I anticipated, and it is great to have this opportunity. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on securing the debate and on his speech, which came across as genuine and sincere. He captured the values of the co-operative movement very well, and I welcomed his remarks, on which hon. Members can build in debate. He was very polite and thanked the Minister for turning up. I said that it was his duty, and I know that he would agree, but the hon. Gentleman should never apologise for making Ministers come to the House of Commons. When I was a Minister, that was a priority, and I know that the Minister who is present today thinks so too. The debate is important, and the hon. Member for Wycombe kicked it off extremely well.
I congratulate, too, someone whom I was going to call my old friend—but she might take that the wrong way, so I will call her my long-standing friend: that is my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn). We cut our teeth together, when we first came into Parliament, on the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and she has a long—not that long, but longish—history of involvement in the co-operative movement. She spoke with passion, sincerity and knowledge on that subject.
I also want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), who made the important point about the co-operative movement and co-operative schools that although structures are important it is the values underpinning the movement that make it a suitable model for the education system.
I apologise for missing part of the proceedings. Lipson community college in Plymouth is a co-operative academy. It was set up in 2009 and is outstanding. It encourages pupils to follow up and become co-operators. In fact, they are very involved in the young co-operative movement, and the Ruptors street dance co-op is an example of that. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are many offshoots from the education of young people in co-operative schools? I do not think that anyone puts a value on that, and we need a better understanding of what co-op schools can offer. I think many colleagues in this place do not really understand that.
I strongly agree. I should like to talk more later about knowledge and understanding of co-operative schools. I should say at the outset that the Labour Front Bench is strongly supportive of the movement and of the rapid development and spread of co-operative schools that has happened in recent years, since legislation was amended to make it a little easier to form them. There is still work to be done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley pointed out. There is a good quotation on the Schools Co-operative Society website:
“Essentially they are just what schools should be and what people thought they really were about already!”
That is a good way to put it. There is nothing about co-operative schools that would not be familiar to people, as far as values or ideas of what a good school should be are concerned. Yet, as we know, there is sometimes misunderstanding about co-operatives and co-operative schools.
Values in education are one reason why Labour supports the movement. It is time that we had more of a debate about those. There is much debate about structures and the idea that opening a free school or an academy will solve everyone’s problems. However, we all know that what really counts is good teaching, great leadership and the values underpinning a school and education system. It is interesting that the process that has been going on, which is a quiet revolution in the system—and people talked about a revolution in the debate—has received hardly any media coverage. Yes, the Government have a flagship policy for free schools, but there are far more co-operative schools than free schools. No one would think that from reading the papers and following the news. Certainly, a lot more Department for Education staff are devoted to free schools than to co-operatives. There are more than 100, are there not? I did not realise there were that many left in the Department. It is an awful lot of staff, but very little in the way of resources is devoted to helping co-operative schools to develop.
I welcome the remarks of the Secretary of State about the co-operative movement and co-operative schools in general, which the hon. Member for Wycombe quoted. No one would ever accuse him of not talking a good game, but in relation to actual delivery and policy, it would be good to see more resources within the Department being devoted to co-operative schools, since the Secretary of State has made it so clear that he is powerfully in favour of their development. That is important because it provides a bulwark against what some people fear—that the current upheaval in the structure of the schools system could lead to the idea that the Secretary of State has entertained from time to time: a system of taxpayer-funded, profit-making schools. That idea was tried in Sweden under its free school system, but it has not worked out too well.
The Swedish system was a model. The Secretary of State was infatuated with Swedish models, but he does not talk about them much any more. Sweden had profit-making free schools, but what happened was perhaps predictable. There are two ways to make a profit: increase revenue or cut costs. Of course, there are limited opportunities for taxpayer-funded schools to increase revenue. In Sweden, once hedge funds and the like invested in the schools, it led to the cutting of costs.
Since there is no requirement for qualified teachers, an obvious way to cut costs is to employ people who do not have to be paid qualified teacher rates. As a result, some of the schools went bust, with consequences for the education of the children, and also with the consequence ultimately that the legislation was overturned and a requirement was reintroduced for qualified teachers in the schools. There were no real educational or co-operative values underpinning the schools, which left them as the prey of hedge fund managers and the like. [Interruption.] If there are co-operative schools—would the hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) like to intervene?
The hon. Gentleman does not want to intervene. He is chuntering away from a sedentary position, but he is not prepared to share his views with us.
If there is a co-operative schools system underpinned by the values described so eloquently by the hon. Member for Wycombe at the start of the debate, we overcome such problems. The schools can have autonomy. They can be run by local people according to a set of values that do not put profit before the education of local children and the views of local people.
I have had the opportunity to visit co-operative schools around the country. I mentioned earlier the visits that I made to Upper Shirley high school in Southampton and the Tiverton co-operative learning development trust in Devon. I talked to the teachers and the leaders in those co-operative schools and I put the hard questions to them. It is not enough simply to have a structure and values in place. It has to be absolutely the case that everybody involved in the school is focused on raising standards and making sure that every child matters and that every child is given an opportunity to fulfil their potential.
I have no doubt that from time to time some co-operative schools will go off the rails, as do other schools, but it is surely right that a model based on co-operative principles, whereby everybody knows the values that they should be working to, stands a better chance of success than one that is based on ultimately making a profit. That is a road down which I understand the Secretary of State is interested in travelling.
I do not want to break up the spirit of consensus that we have engendered, but I am not against profit. I simply want to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention back to the third principle of co-operatives, which I am sure he knows better than I do: member economic participation. We know—we discussed it earlier—that one reason why the Rochdale pioneers succeeded is because they made a surplus, and surpluses are paid as dividends to members. I am a little cautious when talking about co-operatives. I would not want the debate to be shut down too far, because there is an honourable tradition, clearly articulated by the co-operative movement, of member economic participation. I would not want to exclude it from the future of co-operative schools.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and the opportunity to make it clear that I am not against profit, either. We live in a mixed economy and the market is a wonderful thing. In the case of education, occasionally it can be a good servant, but it is a very, very poor master. Opposition Members will never support profit-making schools. Yes, there is a role for a profit-making business in education—publishers, for instance—but Opposition Members will not support profit making in taxpayer-funded schools.
Indeed. My hon. Friend makes that point very well and she is absolutely right to do so.
Some people in teachers’ associations and trade unions have been suspicious of co-operative schools, but the partnership that is developing between teachers’ associations and trade unions and some co-operative schools around the country is to be welcomed. The agreement between the NASUWT and the co-operative schools movement is a welcome development. I hope other teachers’ associations and unions will also engage in a positive manner with the co-operative schools movement. As was pointed out earlier in the debate, teachers should very much welcome such a development and the opportunity to be a part of running their schools and playing their role within co-operative schools and co-operative trusts.
On the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley earlier this year, I hope the Minister will encourage the Department—it might have been another Department—to answer the letter that she sent earlier in the year. If it has been lost, perhaps she can provide a further copy. The Minister’s hon. Friends welcomed her remarks on the Bill, and I would welcome an opportunity for us to co-operate in a parliamentary way on the provisions of her Bill, albeit after they have been appropriately stress-tested by the civil service and Parliament and properly scrutinised before we do so. May I make that offer to him?
If the Government feel that that is something they would like to do to make it possible for my hon. Friend’s Bill, or the spirit of her Bill, to become law, the Minister would have our co-operation. I completely understand that he cannot commit to that today in a debate of this kind, but perhaps he will take away that offer and consider my hon. Friend’s remarks. Will he ensure that it is possible for co-operative structures to be incorporated into the legislation, as in clause 1 of her Bill, and also make it possible for nurseries to become co-operatives? Will it be possible for them to form part of a co-operative trust that, as she rightly pointed out, might form an all-through education service for an area, which is an ambition of many co-operative trusts around the country? I hope he will be able to say something positive and take that away and consider it, even if he cannot make a commitment now.
I welcome this debate and the way it was kicked off by the hon. Member for Wycombe. I welcome the Government’s professed support for co-operative schools, and I hope the Minister will talk about that. What counts is what works, and we can see that co-operative schools do work. They work because they can generate the kind of leadership and teaching that we want, where everybody understands the values under which they are working—the values of sharing and of working together in the interests of children and young people. Finally, I once again thank and congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this debate.
May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on securing this important debate, and on his passionate contribution, demonstrating his commitment to raising educational standards in his constituency? As he knows, this Government want to be champions of diversity, of high standards and of closer working-together in the education system.
It is always hugely encouraging to hear examples of where standards are being raised. We are seeing improvement, including in the recent results in the Cressex community school in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Like him, I want to pay tribute to the head teacher—David Hood—the governors, the staff, pupils and the whole community, which has played its part in helping to drive up standards. They are to be commended for their efforts.
I assure hon. Members that the Government are wholeheartedly supportive of the role that school partnerships and co-operation play in achieving our shared goal of a high-performing and self-improving education system. As my hon. Friend said, we are in danger of fierce agreement. Politics is not always as black and white as people think it is. Shared values can surface, and this is one such occasion. There is an underlying cause to which we all want to contribute, which is ensuring that every child, whatever their start in life, gets the best possible chance to reach their full potential, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said. The community has a huge role in making that happen.
We have had excellent contributions from the hon. Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton). I welcome this opportunity to discuss on behalf of the Government the contribution that diversity partnerships and collaboration are making to improving standards in education, performance and teaching through the co-operative movement and other things in our education system.
The evidence is stark. It shows that schools working together leads to an increase in performance for all schools involved in that partnership, even—this should be noted—for high-performing schools that support weaker schools. As Dr Chris Tomlinson, the phenomenally successful executive principal of the Harris academy Greenwich, Harris academy Chafford Hundred and the primary attached to that in the Harris federation of schools, said:
“Working together improves our knowledge about how to get the best out of pupils and staff. It helps us to fine-tune and understand those occasionally small changes that make a real difference”.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe has set out, one of the interesting things about the example of Cressex community school is that it is a maintained school in partnership with a successful converter academy and an independent school, among other partners. That is exactly the sort of partnership that we are developing through our academies programme and in other education reforms.
We should, and do, cherish the values of co-operative trust schools, in particular the importance of shared responsibility for problems and for designing solutions, and the importance of those involved in a child’s learning having a stake in that learning. As we have heard, since the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which introduced trust school status—the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish reminded us that the first was in his constituency—we have seen a steady and increased pace of such schools being set up. Their number is up from 188 in September 2011, as we have heard, to more than 700 by the end of this year. That in itself demonstrates that the permissive nature of the establishment of such schools is doing nothing to prevent schools from starting to form trusts and relationships. Cornwall is perhaps the most acute example of where that is happening right across a county.
The co-operative trust model is one of many that can facilitate effective partnership working. In an increasingly diverse education system, many different models are emerging, which is increasing choice for parents, which we want to see more of, as well as increasing support for schools. We now have academy chains, where schools formally work together, often sharing governance and leadership while benefiting from the autonomy of academy status.
We also have sponsored academies, with more and more outstanding schools now formally sponsoring weaker schools so as to bring about improvement. Six such sponsored academies are co-operative trust academies. We also have federations, where maintained schools formally share governance and expertise. There is also the sharing of head teachers and senior leadership teams; teaching schools; national or local leaders of education; the independent and state schools partnership; and other formal partnerships, such as the Bradford partnership, a not-for-profit organisation consisting of schools from that city working together to improve outcomes for young people.
In that eclectic mix of different models, it will come as no surprise to hon. Members that the Government’s view is that academy status is effective in driving improvement and collaboration. That status is now enjoyed by close to 3,400 schools in England. We believe that teachers and head teachers, not politicians and bureaucrats, should control schools and have more power over how they are run in the best interests of students. With well over half of secondary schools now being academies, and primary schools joining the programme at an increasing rate, research has found that more than a quarter of academies have seen their relationship with other schools improve since they became academies.
The evidence is clear that the freedom that academies have has led to an increase in standards, and that the highest-performing institutions are helping to improve the weakest. As Mary Speakman, head teacher of Altrincham grammar school for girls, one of the lead schools in the Bright Futures educational trust, said:
“The pupils at AGGS get a really privileged education. They do well and our standards are high. We want to share that experience and develop other schools, so that every young person has those chances”.
I am pleased to see that, so far, 173 converter academies are sponsoring 192 academies, and a further 106 projects are approved to open. In the spirit of this debate, I am also pleased to note, as has been said, that the role of the co-operative movement as a sponsor of schools that need extra support is increasing, and to note the increasing number of co-operative schools choosing academy status and becoming co-operative academies. I do not think that the schools have to live in isolation from one another. They share many of the values that, as has been rightly pointed out, exist in the co-operative movement.
It is worth noting what David Wootton, chair of the Independent Academies Association, has said on the issue:
“The academy movement, and sponsored academies in particular, have a strong commitment to social justice and moral purpose. This means a dedication to the communities they serve and a deep desire to improve outcomes and ‘close the gap’ for students in some of the most challenged communities. Many academies have very strong community routes…We in the academy movement welcome the support of the Co-operative movement, who are now actively involved supporting academies, and believe there is room for a diversity of providers.”
I thank the Minister for his warm words about co-operatives. Will he say a few words about the Department’s approach to making the benefits of co-operative governance known to schools that are looking to change their governance arrangements? Is there any literature that goes out? Does he have any officials working on the project? What discussions has he had with the co-operative movement on that?
I will talk about that in relation to some of the proposals regarding the ten-minute rule Bill and other measures to try to open that up to a wider aspect of the education system. As I have set out, there has been a huge increase in the number of co-operatives over the past two years alone, which shows that they are not being prevented from doing so.
On the matters raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, I am happy to take back the issue of the messages that the Department and other parts of Government are sending out about the benefit that the movement brings to communities around the country. Our having this debate, and my sending out a strong message of support on behalf of the Government, demonstrates our desire to see diversity in the education system that meets the needs of individual communities.
Is it not one of the benefits of co-operative education that there is no one-size-fits-all approach? Every co-operative school is different in its make-up and outlook, but the one thing that bridges all co-operative schools, whether they are academies, trusts or free schools, is the values that underpin the co-operative principle.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. No one size fits all and, as we know from schools in our constituencies, there is no blueprint that will make every school successful. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe reminded us earlier that the first co-operative free school will open next year in Swanage, and the first co-operative alternative provision free school will open in Harlow in 2014. Those are two examples of how different types of model can be nurtured to meet the needs of particular areas.
Collaboration, which is a feature of the values we have been discussing, manifests itself in several different ways, one of which is the academies programme. Other formal partnership arrangements may work for different communities in relation to both academies and maintained schools, so long as they provide a framework for joint working, with clear lines of accountability, and preserve the intrinsic values of autonomy and liberty that my hon. Friend spoke about.
May I correct an error that I made earlier? I should have paid tribute to Katy Simmons, the chair of the governors of Cressex community school, and Mervyn Wilson, the principal of the Co-operative College, who have helped me to understand that the co-operative movement is striving for autonomy and self-government. While I do not wish to argue about party, it seems to me that the Government are trying to drive people to make the most of their in-built, inherent talents and to exercise freedom and responsibility in relationships, which is all moving in the direction of co-operatives. I am grateful to the Minister for his approach to the subject, but I hope that he will go back to the Department and ask it to produce the Bills that will make that a reality.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. At this juncture, I should perhaps talk about the ten-minute rule Bill introduced back in April by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley. Some of its provisions related to the status of industrial provident societies and the existing legal barriers that she has identified, as well as to the role that nurseries may play in the co-operative movement.
As the hon. Lady will know, by virtue of having brought in the Bill, some elements of the 2006 Act preclude nurseries from inclusion in such co-operative trust arrangements. We are currently consulting on measures to make it easier for schools to extend their age range downwards—for example, from five to 11 for primary schools, to three to 11—so nursery classes in those schools would be able to adopt co-operative ideals. I anticipate that she will understand that some nurseries will therefore still exist outside the extended school system and that it is not possible for them to be trusts.
I will undertake, first, to ensure that the hon. Lady receives a full and proper reply from my Department and, I assume, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) is a Minister in both Departments—to her inquiry in relation to her Bill. Secondly, I will consider whether it would be of assistance to have a meeting with her and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe to discuss both how we measure the success of the co-operative movement as it has begun to grow over the past few years, and where it fits into the jigsaw of educational provision that is now available. I am happy to take that back and ensure that it is given full attention.
I am grateful to the Minister for that offer, which saves my having to press him for exactly that. It would be most effective to have a meeting—I would certainly want it to be a cross-party one, with hon. Members from both sides of the House who have spoken in this debate—to see how we can take forward both the need for legislation and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) has said, the need to publicise more widely to schools the benefits of co-operation, of which they may be unaware.
I am glad that we have managed to come to another co-operative consensus in this debate. Given the steep rise in the number of co-operative trusts in England, it is important to look seriously at their impact and where they fit into our attempts to establish the most effective education for all our children. As the hon. Lady rightly points out, much of that involves good joint working relationships that should provide incentives for schools to develop higher educational standards.
Doing so has several other advantages. The biggest contribution to school leadership development lies in providing the rich and varied opportunities that will lead to the innovation and responsibility that we want schools to show. Collaborative working can, therefore, provide a broader base for developing leaders, and a greater opportunity for leaders to learn from one another. As I have seen in my constituency, it gives such leaders a greater experience of what is going on not only in their schools, but in surrounding ones and at different levels or key stages.
Working more closely together increases the scope for shared learning and continuous professional development, and helps to improve the capacity of small schools—another important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe—by creating a greater pool of resources and expertise that can be shared more flexibly between schools. School leaders tell us that they can recruit and retain the best staff by providing them with professional challenge and support in working with other schools.
One major advantage of shared arrangements has been the improvement in the governance of weaker schools. It is typical for governing bodies of sponsored chains to be supported in their monitoring role not only by training, but by receiving data that are collated and presented to main boards and local governors in a standard format. The format will normally report on progress against targets and previous performance, comparisons with national benchmarks and the performance of other academies in the chain.
Another advantage is that central costs can be shared across more schools, giving them greater purchasing power in partnership than they would have as stand-alone schools. They can also benefit from economies of scale and from the pooling of resources. The use of shared business management as a resource across schools has been shown to lead to improved efficiencies and the more effective use of resources across schools. Collaborative working also opens up new opportunities to adapt the primary and secondary curriculums to meet local needs, and it allows schools to put in place stronger academic transition procedures between different phases of school.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) raised the issue of the Treasury’s proposed tax changes. Obviously I need to look carefully at that to establish exactly whether they will play out as he suggested. On ensuring that we have a crisper, clearer legislative framework, that builds on the matters raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley. Whatever we do in education, we must ensure that it raises standards and that it is sustainable, which is another reason it is important to look at the impact of co-operative trusts on our educational system.
We have managed to transcend a partisan debate, mainly because, as I said at the outset, we have many shared values that do not always have an opportunity to rise to the surface in political debate or in our efforts to make our wider political points as we think is most effective. We do not, however, have anything to fear from co-operatives. Whatever side of the political spectrum we are on, we should embrace the values they offer.
The debate has been an opportunity to celebrate the success and the growing involvement of the co-operative movement in our schools, and to acknowledge that at its core are values that we all hold dear, wherever we sit on the political spectrum—a commitment to social justice and moral purpose, a combined spirit of autonomy, a deep desire to help ensure that children and young people across our communities, but especially in the most challenging areas, get every opportunity to make the most of their education and, wrapping around those values, strong community roots that bind in a joint sense of responsibility and, perhaps most importantly, of caring for others. We all have some compassionate bones in our body, and such values have risen to the surface today, which is a testament to the fact that the co-operative movement does much to enrich our communities, as it does more and more within our schools.
I hope that I have given a forceful indication that this Government hugely value the co-operative movement’s work in our schools. We want to learn more about the effect that it is having, what it is achieving and how it can do more in the future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, many schools are still deciding and choosing, as are parents, what sort of schools they want their children to be in. This excellent and informative debate will have encouraged us all to continue to push for higher educational standards in whatever form, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this subject to the House.