Pupils to vote on how their school is run, in 'trust' partnership with Co-op

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The Independent Online

A 1,400-pupil comprehensive school is to become the first in the country where every pupil will have a vote in the way it is run.

Reddish Vale Technology College in Stockport, Greater Manchester, is going into partnership with the Co-op under government plans to set up a network of "trust" schools.

Co-op executives hope it will be the first of several to adopt a formula under which every pupil will have a say in a democratic forum designed to come up with ideas about their school's future.

The idea is to give pupils a glimpse of how a democratic institution should work so they can play their full part as citizens when they leave. The format recalls that of the independent Suffolk boarding school Summerhill, set up in 1921 by the educationist Alexander Sutherland Neill. All Summerhill pupils have a say in their curriculum and the running of the school.

Advisers to the former prime minister Tony Blair saw the trust scheme as an opportunity for businesses, private schools and faith groups to become involved in the running of state schools. Phil Arnold, the head of school development at Reddish Vale, said: "I think this is a real alternative for the way 'trust' schools operate."

Members of Reddish Vale's democratic forum will include pupils, parents, teachers and community representatives. "All pupils will have full voting rights," said Mr Arnold, "as will parents/carers and all organisations we work with in the public, private and voluntary sector.

"For instance, we might be putting on a new course in computer management but the local community might decide that's not what they want and opt for a different course instead."

The forum will appoint two members to the governing body, which will be able to push through changes the forum agrees.

The school approached the Co-op for partnership. "It seemed we shared its values – and are very much into collaboration between pupils," added Mr Arnold. For instance, the school runs a farm where pupils tend animals and sell eggs and vegetables, with profits going to the school.

"You might get a pupil who wants to train to be a vet working alongside someone who wants to be an agricultural worker – both with different skills, working alongside each other and learning from each other," said Mr Arnold.

Megs Bradbury, the education director at the Co-op, said: "It is giving the whole community ownership of the school and bringing them into the co-operative movement."