The "acceptable" version of Academies

Helen Flynn's picture
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.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 04/09/2011 - 13:00

I agree with you Helen. The co-operative model may be a good way forward. What do you think of the Co-operative one in Manchester?

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 05/09/2011 - 14:37

I have never understood why the co-operative model has not been pushed by the left political body as an alternative to hierarchical models of state provision (for education and health amongst other things) headed from Whitehall/LEA.

My guess is that;

Unions have too much to lose, particularly the well paid union managements;

Civil service at local and national level also similarly affected.

The problem for these two is the synergy of enterprise, benefit and *the actual workers*, who will be able to become their own managers, increase their mutual wealth and so make unnecessary much of these existing managerial structures, so unacceptable to these vested interests.

It is worth noting that the vested interest in the case of education is not predominantly the private sector, but the large state sector including the virtually co-opted unions. These entities take profit now from the education sector.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/09/2011 - 19:48

When Hackney consulted recently on a new school, the community were given just two choice - Free School or Academy. This is the Gove diktat. No mention of comprehensive, local school etc. At a meeting, the majority of people said they would have ticked the box for comprehensive or co-operative school if it had been. The consultation showed that about 85% of people preferred an Academy to a Free School. A sizeable number of people scribbled "co-operative" or comprehensive

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 06/09/2011 - 22:12

On assumption Hackney means the local authority, if anyone wants to start a co-op school let them approach the LA and/or make a free school application. The fact that it wasn't consulted on does not mean it cannot still happen.

I can't see why in prinicple a co-op school would not have some support especially from a local labour administration. It could always be rejected on the same grounds as other kinds of school if lacking in some way.


Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 07/09/2011 - 12:38

In Hackney, people wanted a co-operative comprehensive school stewarded by the LA. This is the choice they wanted to have but it was not a choice given by Hackney, probably because they are anticipating the new law which says that new schools have to be Academies or Free Schools. Perhaps you would like to suggest how this narrowing of choice actually translates into more choice for parents and communities who still want the schools in their boroughs overseen by LAs? What do you suggest the parents do? Lobby Gove for such a co-operative school?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/09/2011 - 13:53

Ben - the last government did encourage co-operative trust schools (see link below). They are intended to be schools run on a co-operative basis involving the school, its governors, the wider community, and partners/sponsors. They are not management/employee buy-outs and nothing to do with increasing the "mutual wealth" of the workers. Funding goes from the local authority to the governors so there is still local authority involvement.

One example is Babington Community Technology College in Leicester whose partners are the local authority (City of Leicester), Leicester College of Further Education and the Co-operative College.

Mr Gove makes much of academy chains, including ULT which was banned from opening more academies after poor Ofsted inspections of some of its existing academies. The ban on ULT has been lifted. It is unfortunate that in praising ULT and other chains, Mr Gove does not mention the Co-operative Trust schools. There are more than 100 of them.

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