Co-op schools set to soar by 40% as they opt for self-funding

1st October 2010 at 01:00
They reject inducements to become academies and go it alone

The number of co-operative trust schools is expected to expand by nearly 40 per cent by the new year despite the Government pulling its funding for the programme.

It is understood that schools are dipping into their own budgets to finance the moves, turning down up to #163;25,000 offered by the Coalition to become academies instead.

Two years ago, then education secretary Ed Balls committed #163;500,000 to establishing 100 of the schools; the 105th co-op trust school opened its doors this week.

It is expected that 140 of the schools will be open by January, despite the decision by current Education Secretary Michael Gove to cut all financial support for the scheme.

Mervyn Wilson, chief executive and principal of the Co-operative College, a 91-year-old university founded by the original co-operative movement, said he expects to see the number of schools increase further. In future, co-ops could also open new academies as well as conventional schools, he said.

"Despite the change of priorities of the new Government, the number of co-operative schools is expected to continue to grow, with more schools engaged in the consultation and statutory processes in the autumn term, and (showing) interest in developing a co-operative model for the new academies," Mr Wilson said.

"There remains a very high level of interest, particularly in community-based clusters of schools."

Mr Wilson said the anticipated cuts to school budgets over the coming years will make schools even more determined to join co-operative clusters of schools in a bid to pool resources.

Under the previous administration, schools considering becoming a co-operative trust were funded to the tune of #163;5,000.

But in a letter to schools last month, the Department for Education said it no longer intends to support the programme, highlighting the benefits of becoming an academy instead.

"Funding for the co-operative trust schools pilot programme will end this month (September 2010) after the original two-year period," the letter said. Schools already in the process of acquiring their trust status will be able to claim the additional funding until March 2011.

In the same letter, the Government said it wants to tackle inequality by empowering headteachers. "The immediate priority was to introduce legislation to allow all schools ... to benefit from the freedoms and flexibility of academy status," it said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, said: "The Government rejected the co-op schools model on the basis that they adhere to national pay and conditions.

"This Government's agenda is not about raising standards, it is not about equity for all but about breaking up the national framework for schools."

CO-OPERATIVE TRUSTS

Local options

Co-operative trusts are schools run by the local community where pupils, parents and teachers have a say in how the school is run.

The schools are paired with local businesses or charities, giving them the power to appoint staff, own their buildings and set their own admissions policies.

Schools can form clusters, enabling them to reduce costs and share specialist staff.

Reddish Vale Technology College in Stockport was the first co-operative trust school to open in 2008.

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