Record results for co-operative schools
On the morning this year’s GCSE results were published in the UK, the headline story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper read: “Hundreds of schools face axe as GCSE grades stall.” It reported that one of the consequences of the slower than hoped rate of improvement in results was that over 240 secondary schools would fall below the government’s ‘floor target’ and could be subject to forced academisation. Since then, news coverage has reported the impact of changes in the grading of GCSE English examinations, which saw thousands of students who would have received a good grade fail in June because grade boundaries were changed part-way through the year.
In secondary schools, the government links performance with GCSE achievement, and schools are schools expected to reach minimum ‘floor targets’ that rise each year. Under the previous administration, this had been 50 per cent of learners achieving five GCSEs at grades A*-C, subsequently changed to include Maths and English. Further changes have seen the floor targets rise to 35 per cent in 20112 and 40 per cent this year. By 2015, this will be 50 per cent. At the same time, eligible qualifications have been restricted and pressure has been put on examination boards to make exams more challenging.
A year ago, there were around 150 co-operative Trust schools across England. Today, this figure has more than doubled, and record numbers of schools are starting the consultation processes this autumn. Together with academies and co-operative Business and Enterprise Colleges, the total number of co-operative schools stands at 335, meaning that as many as 200,000 students across the country are now receiving an education informed by the co-operative values and principles. This pattern of doubling the number of co-operative schools year on year looks set to continue.
Looking at this year’s GCSEs results, it is not surprising that co-operative models for schools are proving more and more popular. Many co-operative schools are securing sustainable and ongoing attainment, including significantly improved GCSE performance.
At Campsmount Technology College near Doncaster, an early co-operative Trust, results rose from 36 per cent in 2011 to 53 per cent this year. Many of the co-operative Trust schools that were below the Government’s floor target in 2007 have seen dramatic improvements. Blackburn Central High School (formerly Blakewater College) saw 53 per cent of its learners achieving the five A*-C including Maths and English this year, compared with 11 per cent in 2009. Lipson Community College in Plymouth, another early co-operative trust, improved to 48%, remarkable considering that five years ago it was around 17 per cent. Lakers School in the Forest of Dean had its best ever results, with 56 per cent of its learners achieving the five A*-C, including Maths and English Amongst the others achieving sharp increases was Passmores Academy in Harlow, the location for the Educating Essex TV series which was broadcast on Channel 4 last year, where results rose from 50 per cent to 66 per cent.
At a time when the UK government is trying to force ‘underperforming’ schools to become sponsor academies – meaning they are taken over by either ‘stronger’ schools or by academy chains – the experiences of co-operative schools demonstrate that enforced academisation is not the only way to transform schools’ attainment. Supporters of co-operative schools argue that they are a way of raising attainment from within, rather than through the government’s preferred options of involving charities, businesses and for-profit providers from abroad.
Burnt Mill School, Harlow
Three years ago, just 27% of students at Burnt Mill School in Harlow, Essex achieved five good grades, including English and Maths, at GCSE level. Since Burnt Mill became a co-operative Trust school in 2010 (it is now a co-operative Academy, having converted last year), the leap in students’ attainment has been dramatic.
In 2012, 72% of students achieved the target of five good GCSEs including English and Maths. Headteacher Helena Mills believes this is a direct demonstration of how the co-operative values can impact on attainment. “We would attribute the success to the fact that the co operative values of equality and solidarity inform everything we do in the school. We have not necessarily done one thing as an Academy but have taken many steps to ensure we achieve equality of opportunity. The results are improved because all my teachers and support staff are committed to ensuring that young people from all backgrounds achieve above expectations,” comments Helena.
Burnt Mill is in an area of high deprivation, with large numbers of white working class students, and the school has implemented several changes to help all groups of learners achieve. Helena explains: “We set very challenging targets for students and expect all groups of learners to make four levels progress, not three. We ensure we prepare lessons that take into consideration the needs and backgrounds of young people. Our interventions are targeted at particular groups, for example FSM students, and we track students very carefully.”
Central to the co-operative model for schools is involving key stakeholders in the running of the school, from students and parents/carers to members of the local community, a way of ensuring that schools are democratically accountable to the communities they serve. Burnt Mill has embraced the model, and is reaping the benefits. Helena says: “Our engagement with the community and parents, such as using ambassadors from the community and running parental workshops to ensure that parents can support students at home, has been instrumental.”
Helena also describes as “instrumental” the support the school received from the Co-operative College. She explains: “When everybody had given up on the school and was ready to send us down sponsored academy route, the College came and supported me in challenging DfE meetings! I think it is an essential part of our success!”
Passmores Academy, Essex
Another co-operative school which has seen a dramatic increase in its results is Passmores Academy in Harlow, Essex, which became a co-operative Academy in September 2011. In 2012, the school celebrated a marked rise in its results from 50% of students achieving 5 good GCSEs, including English and Maths, to 66%.
However the school has still faced a tough year. Principal Vic Goddard admits: “I am certain that we haven’t had as difficult a year as the last one in my career, due to the seemingly endless message that we are not doing a good enough job from those at the top, as well as the pressures that we have put on ourselves!”
The co-operative values have underpinned the school’s progress in delivering a child-centred education. “The young people have achieved at the level they have due to the partnership of students, staff and the community – or co-operation if you will! The values that drive our school, and that are written all over it, are those that have enabled staff and students to persevere when the going gets tough and to unlock the doors to their future,” reflects Vic.
Vic explains how values shape the school: “We start with honesty and openness as the basis of our ‘working’ relationships between staff and students alike. We are transparent with our students about where they are in their journeys and why we need them to behave in certain ways. The use and understanding of the data we hold on every individual young person is at the centre of all that we do and is not hidden from the students. This honesty and openness, more often than not, leads to an understanding by our young people that self-help and self-responsibility will be their keys to success, with our help along the way.
“As a school we accept that young people make mistakes, and that they learn from them by working together; that way we can create an environment where there is a strong collegial approach to helping our students overcome any barriers to their progress.”