The Royal Docks Community School in Newham, east London, will be the first in the new breed of Co-op schools to open in the capital, under plans unveiled by the local council, after a dogged year-long campaign against an academy backed by the sponsor, ARK. (See Workers April 2009 and July 2009.)
Proposals to turn the school, now in what’s called Special Measures, into an academy met fierce opposition, including two strikes by school staff in December 2008 and March 2009, mass leafleting campaigns, intervention in the local ward by-election and an intense publicity effort in the local papers. Eventually, even the Mayor became involved, changing his pro-academy stance and insisting on a Co-op Trust.
At the beginning of this year, Newham council named ARK, a charity backed by hedge-fund millionaires, as its preferred sponsor to turn the school into an academy.
Councillors have now discarded this option in favour of a groundbreaking Co-op College Trust. After a bitter local campaign, the council this week announced its plan for the school to become a trust with the Co-operative College and the University of East London. The co-op model is different from existing trust schools because it allows pupils, staff and the local community – rather than a business or other outside organisation – to have a direct say in how a school is run and allows it to be in partnership with other local schools. School unions and governors and the local parents are now determined to ensure the involvement of the Co-op College will bring the greater democracy it promises. It envisages a very different approach from most trusts and all academies. The new school will open by Easter 2010.
The initiative for the Co-op Trust came from the local National Union of Teachers Secretary, and the union argued for it as a positive alternative to the academy.
The announcement of the Trust has been accompanied by two other pieces of good news. In August the school (located in one of the most deprived areas of the country) broke through the government’s target of 30 per cent of children achieving five good GCSEs including English and Maths, with 35 per cent of pupils compared with 25 per cent last year. And in the middle of September the school was inspected by Ofsted/HMI and received a positive assessment of its progress, which may lead to the lifting the Special Measures status next year, possibly before the inauguration of the Trust.
Staff and union morale are high as a result of this impressive struggle to assert and retain professional and democratic control of a local school. Others should take heart and contest academy proposals.