Academies: London to get first co-op trust school

4th September 2009 at 01:00
Campaigners against academy proposals win out as council unveils groundbreaking plan

Original paper headline: First co-op trust school to open in the capital

London is to get its first co-op trust school after a dogged campaign against an academy backed by the sponsor ARK.

The Royal Docks Community School in Newham, east London, will be the first in the new breed of co-op schools to open in the capital, under plans unveiled by the local council.

Proposals to turn the school, now in special measures, into an academy were met with fierce opposition, including strikes by school staff.

Councillors have now discarded the academy option in favour of a groundbreaking co-op trust, a model strongly supported by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary.

Mr Balls announced in September last year that he would make pound;500,000 available for a pilot of 100 co-op trusts over two years. So far only seven have opened. The co-op model is different from existing trust schools because it allows pupils, staff and the local community - rather than a business or other outside organisation - to have a direct say in how a school is run.

At the beginning of this year, Newham council named ARK, a charity backed by hedge-fund millionaires, as its preferred sponsor to turn the school into an academy.

But after a bitter local campaign, the council this week announced its plan for the school to become a trust with the Co-operative College and the University of East London.

Opposition to the proposal

The school's board of governors and teaching unions had been against the academy proposal, but support the partnership with the Co-op. It is hoped the new school will open in January 2010.

The announcement has come as the school has broken through the Government's floor target of 30 per cent of children achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths. This year, 35 per cent of pupils achieved the target, compared with 25 per cent last year.

Tim Harrison, London regional secretary of the NUT and a governor at the school, said: "The union is generally opposed to changing school structures and does not generally see trust status as beneficial. But the involvement of the Co-op College brings greater democracy.

"Staff, parents and teachers can be co-operators and that is a very different approach from most trusts and all academies.

"The achievements by pupils this year were in spite of the unnecessary disruption caused by the consideration of an academy."

The NUT and the NASUWT were themselves criticised by Newham council for disrupting pupils' education by staging strike action against the academy plans in March this year.

The mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said the values of the co-operative movement could now be used to support the Royal Docks, "getting parents more involved and encouraging staff and pupils to become successful".

Mervyn Wilson, chief executive and principal of the Co-operative College, said: "We are confident the combination of a clear set of values and parental, staff, learner and community engagement through membership of the trust would be of enormous benefit."

Local control

Co-operative trust schools allow pupils, staff and the local community - rather than a business or other external body - to form a charitable trust with a say in how the school is run.

The idea is being backed by both leading political parties; the Conservatives first backed the school model in November 2007. David Cameron, the Tory leader, said he wanted to create a "new generation" of schools "funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community".

This was followed by a commitment by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, to open up to 100 co-op trusts. The first to open was Reddish Vale Technology College, in Stockport, in April 2008.

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