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Co-operative schools are characterised by the co-operative values and principles which underpin the practice of all co-operative organisations. In England and Wales, around 850 schools currently use co-operative values to support the curriculum design, pedagogy and structures for accountability and democracy.
Two main forms exist in the state education system: co-operative trust or foundation schools and co-operative academies.
Co-operative trusts were made possible under the 2006 Education and Inspections Act, (2006 EA) introduced by the then Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls MP. The 2006 EIA provided two main aspects of legislation, which could be characterised as 'carrot and stick' in their purpose. The latter embraced a series of powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene in underperforming schools, classified at the time as those with the lowest grades of Ofsted Inspection outcomes. These powers are set to be extended considerably through the introduction of the 2015 Education and Adoption Act (2015EAA). The more positive aspects were reflected in a number of provisions and related incentives for local authorities to promote education partnership, including the basis for a new model of foundation trust. The new model would have similar characteristics and powers to those of the faith-based foundations, but allow education partnerships to establish foundations with a secular faith-neutral ethos. At least one community category of school must 'acquire' the foundation and change category to foundation, for the trust to be established in law - in the case of co-operative trusts, with a distinctive set of articles registered at Companies House on incorporation. Using these powers, a pioneer model of a foundation trust based on co-operative values was used for the first time in 2007 by Reddish Vale School (Stockport). Within a year, a further 25 schools adopted the model as one offering strong values and extensive engagement of all stakeholders within the learning community. The growth of the sector or movement has embraced all phases and has seen particular interest from schools offering special educational provision.
The trust provides powers for the land and assets to be held by the foundation on behalf of the learning community or schools, alongside a wide range of legal opportunities to employ staff, manage shared projects, acquire and use further accommodation or facilities. What is notable about the co-operative model is that the powers of the existing governing body (or bodies) are retained - as the supervising and accountable body for school performance, the budget and resourcing decisions for each of the schools within the trust. The trust represents a separate legal entity for strategic shared objectives, which is resourced appropriately by the schools and other partners for the agreed priorities and programmes of joint working. Partnerships within such trusts often include representation at Board level of local employers, higher education and the local authority - who generally see these as a positive adjunct to school improvement work.
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