The education system is more fragmented than at any point in the past 25 years with dramatic variations in schools' success, and in the accountability they have to the communities they serve. The previous Labour Government introduced the Academy programme to turn round underperforming schools, predominantly in areas of deprivation. Many of these proved that greater freedom coupled with community control was a winning formula, transforming their students' future prospects.
Unfortunately the current government allows any school to become an academy and the rapid expansion has led to scandals with schools failing to deliver even a satisfactory level of education. In addition some schools have been forced to become academies, with a number scooped up by expansion-hungry chains who limit the involvement of parents, students and the wider community.
There is an alternative: co-operative schools. These schools ensure that everyone with a stake in the school's success - parents, teachers, support staff, local community organisations and pupils - have the opportunity to be involved in running it. There are already over 700 co-operative schools across the country, and the number is growing.
Co-operative schools are at the forefront of a quiet revolution, and the national Co-operative Schools Society is larger than any of the major academy chains. They benefit from their links to the wider co-operative movement with its tens of millions of members. The key is having control in local hands, not exchanging local education authority control for Whitehall, or for unaccountable education chains.
Results show co-operative schools provide a well-rounded curriculum and equip pupils with the social and personal skills they need to thrive. They raise aspiration and attainment by instilling in pupils co-operative values such as self-help, social responsibility, equality and a global outlook, delivered within a faith-neutral environment. This is a model that delivers academic excellence driven by local accountability.
But the legal forms of co-operatives are determined as Industrial and Provident Societies, or Co-operative or Community Benefit Societies. There is no provision in the relevant Acts for co-operative schools. At the moment the majority of these schools operate within an informal network of Co-operative Trusts.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 needs to be amended to allow nursery schools to become school trusts and co-operatives. By their nature co-operatives are based in a geographical area that serves a local community. A Co-operative Trust could be a school from nursery through to secondary level, and perhaps through to further education.
Theoretically co-operative schools enjoy cross-party support, David Cameron said in 2008 there should be "a new generation of co-operative schools funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community." Labour's shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, has called for parent-led academies and the NASUWT trade union is also supportive of the model.
To secure a solid foundation for their continued development we have to formalise the framework within which they operate. We need legislation to ensure co-operative schools can work on a level playing field with other school structures. This would be an important step to ensure the co-operative model is able to develop to serve local communities.