On the morning this years 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 governments 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% in 20112 and 40% this year. By 2015, this will be 50%. 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 years 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% in 2011 to 53% this year. Many of the co-operative Trust schools that were below the Governments floor target in 2007 have seen dramatic improvements. Blackburn Central High School (formerly Blakewater College) saw 53% of its learners achieving the five A*-C including Maths and English this year, compared with 11% 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%. Lakers School in the Forest of Dean had its best ever results, with 56% 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% to 66%.
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 governments preferred options of involving charities, businesses and for-profit providers from abroad.