To be effective in a modern global economy, young people need to be equipped not only with individual skills, but the knowledge and understanding to effectively work in teams – to learn to co-operate. In order to give young people a well-rounded education, it is equally important that education also focuses on developing ethical values and social responsibility. Through its involvement in education, the Co-operative Movement has demonstrated that it can provide a values-led, faith-neutral environment and curriculum for the future citizens of tomorrow’s global economy.
Reports from OFSTED, and the results of pupils have shown the benefits of using co-operative values as a framework to deliver the breadth of curriculum areas and personal development undertaken in schools. Co-operative values and skills can empower young people as active citizens, and embed civil society skills. These should be embedded in the curriculum across early years, primary and secondary education.
It is also important to ensure that young people develop an understanding of the depth and breadth of the Co-operative Movement, both in the UK and across the world. As it stands, a very small proportion of young people leave school with an understanding of co-operatives and mutuals, as opposed to other economic models. The Government should ensure that knowledge of co-operative practice and principles are fully incorporated into the national curriculum for economics, enterprise, geography and citizenship, as well as in other subjects, where appropriate.
Under the last Labour Government, the Co-operative Party welcomed the Department for Children, Schools and Families pilot programme of 100 co-operative trust schools. Moving to a co-operative model provides a framework in which everybody with a stake in the school’s success – parents, teachers and support staff, local community organisations and even pupils – have the opportunity to be involved in running it.
To an increasing number of schools, it provides a strong mutual ‘root’ and a clear mechanism for involving parents more effectively in their children’s education.
The co-operative model also ensures that the school becomes more accountable. The structure is designed to ensure that those in positions of responsibility will have to remain sensitive to the needs, views and aspirations of the different groups of interested people, and that the respective views of stakeholders can be balanced in an appropriate way to suit the needs of the organisation.
There is significant potential for co-operative trust schools to provide an important contribution to the overall diversity of state education. A national network of co-operative trusts is developing, actively supported by and engaging with the huge and diverse co-operative and mutual sector. Yet this currently operates informally. The Government should work with the Co-operative Movement to create a formally constituted national support mechanism for co-operative trust schools, owned and controlled by the existing co-operative trust schools.
We welcomed Labour’s initiative to develop a co-operative model for National Challenge Trusts that ensures representation from key stakeholder groups. We believe that the co-operative model should be applied to all National Challenge schools, as it provides a balance between the need for strong partners to drive forward school improvement with active participation from the community.
Existing charity law should also be reviewed to ensure that the co-operative trust model is able to develop in as democratic and participative a manner as possible, as well as enabling schools to benefit from international associations.
Existing legislation should be amended so that all mainstream state funded schools, whether community, trust, faith-based schools or academies can establish co-operative governance structures, should they wish to do so. They should also become more accountable to parents, pupils, staff and their local communities. Parent and teacher associations should become mandatory in all mainstream schools by September 2011, and should each have responsibility for appointing at least one school governor. Every school should also be required to have an elected body for students, which will play an important role in setting its ethos and overall direction.