It has always stuck me that if the Government is: intent on Academies being the norm and greater independence and freedoms for schools, yet wants schools to collaborate, so that higher performing schools buddy up with lower performing schools (though this was not actually made a legal requirement in the Academies Bill); and at the same time wants local people to have more say and involvement in how services are delivered in their area (c.f. the Localism Bill and the ideas behind the Big Society), then to have decided that the best way of delivering all this is to have Academies set up as individual companies, accountable to Companies House, is completely anti-democratic and bonkers.
If Government rhetoric about mutualism and “all being in this together” is to be taken at face value, then a model for Academies exists already that ticks absolutely all the boxes and could even become acceptable to people who still look back and advocate total LA “control” of state-funded schools. And what’s more, canny heads and chairs of governors are already working to make this model the fastest growing schools network in England. It is the Co-op Trust School or more recently (since Trust Schools fell from favour) the Co-op Academy model.
I wrote about the benefits and attraction of Co-op Trust Schools for CASEnotes
in April 2009 . And Warwick Mansell has recently written for Education Guardian
about the advantages of Co-op Schools, describing them as ‘the antidote to academies’ ) .
Very recently, I attended a Leeds City Council session run on the advantages of setting up council services on a co-operative model. A gentleman there had recently come back from completing a case study of Mondragon in Spain. He described how co-ops work in groups (similar to the idea of academy chains, though with very different governance structures and models of ownership) so that they pool expertise and (in the case of commercial ventures) profits. The main reason they do this is so they can help each other in adversity and to uphold the principle of solidarity. He reported that “The principle of solidarity is more important in co-operatives than under capitalist arrangements --which is to let a company collapse.”
It strikes me that there will be many schools “collapsing” over the next few years as more schools convert to academy status and free schools abound. I find this unacceptable as it may well jeopardize whole groups of children’s life chances. The corporate model that academies are forced to adopt does nothing to address this issue and there will be no necessary solidarity extended from one school to another as competition in many places bites and schools are left to wither on the vine.
How easy would it have been, with just a bit of joined up thinking and with a model already out there, to put forward a co-operative model for all schools that adopt academy status? But I suppose that assumes that Gove really does want the best for all children, and not just some. That may be stretching credibility just a bit too far.