New Clause 16 - Nursery schools: inclusion in schools trusts

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 25th March 2014.

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‘(1) In section 18 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, omit subsection (4)(f).’.—(Chi Onwurah.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 17—Schools: establishment as Industrial and Provident Societies

‘(1) The School Organisation (Requirements as to Foundations) (England) Regulations 2007 are amended as follows.

(2) At end of 3(b) insert “or;

(c) An Industrial and Provident Society as defined in the Industrial and Provident Society Act 1965.”.’.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

As we draw to the close of this Bill Committee, it is a pleasure to end in what will certainly be a co-operative spirit—it may indeed be a consensual spirit. The new clauses would deregulate the legislation applying to schools to enable co-operative schools at nursery level and to enable industrial and provident societies to operate as schools.

The content of the clauses first proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), who worked in conjunction with the Co-operative College and the Schools Co-operative Society, in her 2013  Co-operative Schools Bill, which she introduced under the ten-minute rule. We are keen to ensure that the clauses make it into the Deregulation Bill, and we seek the Minister’s clarification that the relevant Ministers and their Departments are working along similar lines. We therefore hope that this unavoidably short discussion will be cross-party in spirit.

It would be good to hear from the Minister about the Government’s support for the aims and substance of new clauses 16 and 17, and about the Government’s progress towards implementing those important matters in legislation. As previously mentioned, when the proposals were originally moved, they came with the full support and backing of the Co-operative College and the Schools Co-operative Society, which are the umbrella bodies for all co-operative schools in the UK. Speaking about the new clauses, Mervyn Wilson, the principal of the Co-operative College, said that the changes are incredibly important and will give the college a chance to develop the all-through education that we all want to see.

The first co-operative trust school was established just over six years ago. Few would have anticipated the growth of such schools. There are now more than 700 co-operative trust schools, and the number is expected to rise to 1,000 by the end of 2015. More than 250,000 pupils in England now attend co-operative schools. The values of co-operative schools are drawn from the global statement on the co-operative identity, which is recognised by the United Nations and forms the basis of co-operative law across the world. The co-operative values of self-help, self-responsibility, equality, equity and solidarity, together with the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others, are seen by governing bodies to resonate powerfully with their schools. Indeed, speaking as a Member for a north-east constituency, I am proud of our long-term association with and support for co-operative values. I do not know how anyone could object to such values being a fundamental part of our young people’s education.

New clause 16 would make an important change for nursery schools. It would remove the burden of section 18(4)(f) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which excludes nursery schools from changing their legal category from community to foundation, and from establishing or joining a trust that would act as the nursery’s legal foundation. We seek to remove that burden. New clause 17 would amend the School Organisation (Requirements as to Foundations) (England) Regulations 2007 to ensure that schools may be established as an industrial and provident society.

New clause 16 would create legislative consistency. Will the Minister enlighten us as to why nursery schools should not have access to the same freedoms and flexibilities as other mainstream maintained schools? In many ways, nursery schools are the most co-operative part of the sector, both in their engagement with parents and carers and in their pedagogy, as reflected in the early years foundation stage. Certainly in my constituency, many nursery schools have grouped together to work together and share best practice.

Enabling nursery schools to become full members of trusts, particularly co-operative membership trusts, would help to provide a vehicle for parental and family engagement in early years, to enthuse the trust to further develop an  all-through vision of education, further raising levels of aspiration, which is essential for a sustainable change in achievement. It is clear from the evidence we received from the Co-operative College and the Schools Co-operative Society that there is demand from the nursery schools for this change. There are about half a dozen nursery schools already operating as partners in co-operative school trusts that would prefer to change category and make the trust their legal foundation and play a full role in developing their local school co-operative. The Co-operative College already knows about 60 nurseries that would look to use this legislative change, should it be made.

There is a growing recognition that working co-operatively, particularly in the school sector, helps to avoid duplication and distraction, allowing school leaders to focus better on effective leadership of teaching and learning and to raise standards. The value of such collaboration and partnership working between schools was recently highlighted by the Select Committee on Education 2013 report, “School Partnerships and Cooperation”, which highlights the benefits of collaboration between schools, particularly collaboration on the basis of mutual benefit. The change will ensure that such collaboration is able to happen at all levels of education. A number of local authorities are interested in that approach, including Bradford, Bristol and Leeds, plus a number in the north-east. A number of London and south-east local authorities have also expressed an interest.

There is a growing desire in some local authorities to see a local authority-wide nursery school co-operative trust, akin to the local authority-wide special school trusts that emerged initially in Devon and are now in Norfolk. However, the financial pressures on nursery schools under the recently introduced single-funding arrangements are threatening their sustainability in too many local authorities. Some nursery schools have a children’s centre, which gives them added size and weight. The ability for them to legally function as a micro co-operative community-owned children’s trust locally would make a lot of sense.

New clause 17 deals with industrial and provident societies. As with other elements of the co-operative movement, such as housing and energy, the current legislation does not fit well with the unique aspects of co-operative endeavour. For example, there is no provision in housing legislation for housing co-operatives; therefore such endeavours must work their way around the law as best they can. That is certainly not ideal. The new clause would remove that burden from co-operative schools. Industrial and provident societies legislation is used by co-operatives and has underpinned the sector’s development, which we all welcome. It is an anomaly that schools are forbidden to use that legislation. I would welcome the Solicitor-General’s comments on that.

The proposed model involves a constitutional commitment to community benefit, which entirely reflects the purpose of co-operative schools and is not present in the current Department for Communities and Local Government model. Unlike companies limited by guarantee, the IPS legislation makes express provision for young people’s membership, which is in keeping with co-operative schools’ governance structures. Enabling young people to be members of their co-operative school society will certainly increase their engagement and sense of ownership of their own school and educational endeavour.

The new clause will ensure that co-operative schools, which operate under a mixed stakeholder mutual model, are brought into line with other types of co-operative organisations. It will also ensure a more level playing field between co-operative schools and schools that operate under different governance models. The company limited by guarantee model can and has been used so far but, critically, companies limited by guarantee are not designed for that purpose. It is a corporate vehicle that can be adapted for many purposes, but does not reflect the aims and values of the co-operative movement and so it gives no validation that the entity is co-operative or of community benefit. That model does not contain features that would apply if industrial and provident society law or co-operative and community benefit society law was used, such as an asset lock and the co-operative nature check.

I have set out what we are trying to achieve with the new clauses. They have the wide support of the co-operative movement and the Schools Co-operative Society. It is also my understanding that they have the support of relevant Ministers, that the Government is supportive of the aims and substance of these new clauses and that there are detailed discussions taking place. I invite the Solicitor-General to share with us the context of those discussions, their progress and the details of when he expects legislative changes to be brought forward. Does he have concerns about these new clauses as they stand or will he support them? Will he also set out the Government’s support for the co-operative model as an option for schools throughout the education system?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General 4:30 pm, 25th March 2014

The new clauses are intended to build on the existing opportunities open to schools to join and operate as co-operative trusts, and to bring parity to maintained nurseries by allowing them the same ability. As the hon. Lady said, there is a recognition in the Government of the general aim behind the new clauses, and there are discussions on the matter. The Government support the broad aims of partnership, collaboration and co-operation, and also the rise of the co-operative trust and co-operative schools, which has been a major feature over recent years. We have seen the benefits of school collaboration within the existing system, including the sharing of best practice in teaching and in school improvement strategies. Schools are able to share services and specialist provision. The Government do not underestimate the importance of that way of working, and our educational reforms clearly show that.

Partnership and collaborative working in the education sector is one of the key principles of the Government’s vision of a school-led system, and a defining feature of the academies programme. As academies have been freed from local authority control, they have been leading a developing system of school-to-school support. Nearly half of all academies are in a chain. The figure is higher for primary academies, with 61.6% being part of a chain. Members of the Committee will be aware of the way in which, for example, the Harris Federation has worked to provide a better extra-curricular offer across its academies, including after-hours study, catch-ups and trips. Staff across the federation can share expertise, best teaching materials and work schemes, and there are professional learning communities for subject leaders. The Harris Federation reports that in 2013, 72% of  pupils at Harris academies achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C. The Government do not underestimate the benefits that co-operative working can bring.

With the educational reforms since 2010, we have sought to remove the burdens and bureaucracy that had steadily built up over many years. We have strived to increase schools’ autonomy, giving them freedom to work in ways that best suit them and the communities they serve. As for whether maintained nursery schools should have the same benefits as other maintained schools, the Government are exploring that option and would like to explore it further. Given that nurseries are small units, it is necessary to consider whether there would be additional burdens that that they do not currently have, while recognising that there would be benefits. They would become responsible for managing their assets in a way that they do not now. We need to work through the implications and ensure that the system will work for maintained nursery schools.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Solicitor-General for that support for the substance of the new clause. Will he say more about the time scale for working through the implications and reassure us that the work will be completed by Report?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I do not think it is that sort of time scale, but I am waiting to be inspired on that point.

Another point I would make is that there is already freedom to work with local partners, and it may be possible to achieve the intended outcome using federation. At the moment, I am not able to say exactly what the timetable is, because discussions are ongoing. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, met the Secretary of State for Education last month and there is support for further discussions with officials, which are ongoing, so it is a promising process.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I am sure that the Chair did not see any nodding back and forth between somebody in the public gallery and the Minister.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I did not see anyone, Mr Hood. I am sure that they would not have done such a thing. I would, though, like to pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley in this regard, wherever she may be at the moment—possibly building a house with the hon. Member for Derby North.

As far as industrial and provident societies are concerned, the Government are more than happy to explore that aspect of the new clauses as well. Of course, the company limited by guarantee gives many of the benefits, and normally an industrial and provident society is restricted in what it can do. It would be a question of ensuring that the definition, which involves trade and various other aspects that industrial and provident societies are able to engage in—industry and business—is compatible with an educational establishment and understanding the implications for their membership.

As the hon. Lady will know, an industrial and provident society has members and then appoints a board. As she said, that can perhaps include a wider group of people than might be possible with a company, but again, that  needs to be looked into. I am afraid that I cannot go much further, but there is a lot interest, discussion and exploring going on and it all sounds very positive. That is probably as far as I can go today, and on that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady might be prepared to withdraw the clause.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Solicitor-General, first for paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley for the work that she has done in this area—I wholeheartedly echo that tribute—and for expressing his and the Government’s support for the aims and substance of the new clauses. It is right to end the Committee on a subject of consensus and in a spirit of collaboration. That positive support, which we may compare with what we saw on some of the other new clauses that I tried to attract his backing for, is welcome. Although I am somewhat disappointed that we have not got a clearer timetable, I feel that I can rely on the active nature of the Government’s work. Given that they support the principles, aims and the substance of the new clauses, we should be able to iron out the small concerns in a relatively short period of time. In the hope of seeing something from them on Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.