First co-operative Free School to open in Swanage, Dorset in 2013

The former grammar school in Swanage, which has been offered to the school by the owners, the Welfare Dwellings Trust.The first Free School to use a co-operative model has been given the go-ahead to open in Swanage, Dorset. The 420-pupil secondary school is being planned by Education Swanage in partnership with the Co-operative College and education charity Human Scale Education, and is due to open in September 2013.

Education Swanage began as a campaign group of parents, teachers, governors and residents three years ago when the local authority announced it was closing the town middle school, forcing hundreds of children to travel at least 10 miles each day to the nearest secondary. This would have left Swanage as the only town in Dorset with no secondary education, and the only town in the country that had to send so many children so far.

The school will operate on a ‘human scale’, with small class sizes and an emphasis on relationships. It will be open to all 11-16 year olds in the Isle of Purbeck. Human Scale Education and the Co-operative College will provide support and advice and access to a network of similar schools.

Paul Angel, Chair of Governors, said: “Our goal has always been ‘a school created by the community for the community’ and we know that together we will do something truly amazing for local children. We will let everyone know how to offer support and get involved.”

The co-operative model means that key stakeholders including parents and carers, staff learners and the local community can become members, and the school will be underpinned by co-operative values and accountability. Its curriculum proposals include a strong commitment to community engagement, and students will work with local groups to provide services such as voluntary work, fundraising and conservation. Involving students with community groups, businesses and local services is designed to foster mutual respect between young people and their community, and build a vibrant and sustainable future for the town. Parents and local residents will be encouraged to get involved as partners in learning, and national and international partnerships will foster global thinking. The Swanage School aims to benefit the whole community through adult education, and community groups and clubs will be able to use the school’s facilities.

Education Swanage member Collette Drayson said: “We are lucky to live in an area where people know each other well and look out for each other. I see this new school as being very much a part of this community, where strong links and relationships can be built between the students, staff, parents, businesses and voluntary groups. A community is like having an extended family, giving a secure base in which children can learn and be given the confidence to go out and make their way in the world.”

Dave Boston, Chief Executive of the Schools Co-operative Society, the nationwide association of co-operative schools, commented: “I am delighted that Swanage will get the secondary school its community have campaigned for over such a long period of time. If that active community engagement can be translated into ongoing support for the school through membership it could provide another model for the fast growing and diverse co-operative schools sector.”

Co-operative College Principal Mervyn Wilson added: “It is great news that the Education Swanage proposal has been successful and we believe this will be the first genuine co-operative school to emerge from the Free Schools policy. We are aware and share the concerns of many over Free Schools but we also recognise that they provide mechanisms for new schools where there are significant gaps in provision – as is clearly the case in Swanage. The Co-operative College has worked with the group that has led this proposal for some time and has been impressed by the scale of parental and community support and their commitment to harness that engagement through a co-operative model.”

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