Co-operative schools: the future of schooling?

December 16, 2009 at 2:44 pm 1 comment

By Claire McEneaney

Following this week’s launch of The Engagement Ethic, Tessa Jowell called on Ed Balls to explore the potential of mutualism in his department.  However, schools have quietly made a start on this agenda through the creation of Co-operative Schools.   With politicians on all sides now pushing to accelerate the mutualism agenda, these schools may tell us more than we thought about the education providers of the future.  But with more change possible, the question is not only how quickly their will numbers grow but how policy-makers may look to deepen and extend the co-operative principles at their heart.

Co-operative Schools are a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, enabled by legislation which encourages the creation of Trust schools and Academies. Co-operative schools adhere to the principals of a co-operative – self help, self responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and community solidarity. DCSF hopes that co-operative schools will raise standards by developing partnerships, strengthening the curriculum, and community engagement in the strategic direction of schools. A pilot of co-operative schools was launched in September 2008 and, as of October 2009, there were 15 co-operative Trusts operating with 27 schools. The Co-operative College estimates that the number of Trust schools will be over 200 within 2 years. Ed Balls, writing in Co-operative schools – making a difference, says that he “wants to see more parents and communities actively involved in schools, and schools based on the principles of social enterprise and co-operation are an ideal way of doing this”.

The co-operative schools are developing a co-operative governance model based on the engagement of key stakeholder groups like parents and learners through membership of a ‘council’ which appoints and removes trustees, and collaborates with the school and others. The idea is that the council plays a pivotal role in delivering the objectives of the Trust.

For example, Reddish Vale Technology College in Stockport was the first school in England to become a co-operative Trust school, established in March 2008. Phil Arnold, Director of School Improvement, emphasises how the Trust is enabling the school to seize new opportunities “The co-operative Trust will give us a stable platform on which to build partnerships and continue to develop to meet the changing needs of our local communities”.

Nab Wood School in Bingley, serves 1,000 students from the Bradford area. Its Trust is working to support the advancement of education across the community, ensuring that students have access to a wide range of personalised courses that extend their opportunities. Elaine Shoesmith, Headteacher, says “our students want to achieve and we feel that as a Trust school we can provide a broader range of learning opportunities…we need to bridge the gap between the school and the community and feel that the co-operative model will help us to do that. Our parents and carers want to become involved with the school but need opportunities to do so and feel that their opinions are valued.”

While it is early days for these co-operative schools, the model seems popular with politicians of every stripe.  Ed Balls has said “Co-operative school trusts put power in the hands of those who know best what is needed”. David Cameron, in turn, has praised the greater opportunities for parental involvement that co-operative schools can generate. For the schools involved this should mean that, whatever the results of the next election, their co-operative status will endure and that they may grow into credible alternatives to the traditional school governance. However, as the policy momentum builds, there may also be implications for all schools.  Tessa Jowell has talked about a ‘community right to ownership’, which would enable parents and local people to initiate a co-operative school where they want greater say in its affairs.  For all schools, the onus of proof may be shifting away from the question of ‘why engage the community’ and towards the question of ‘why not?’.


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Government Departments, Innovation Policy, Schools & Multi-School Trusts.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. mh.hassani  |  May 31, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Hi Your content was very good .about your subjects have some questions:
    In obove subjects cooperative schools is not clear that the principles of cooperatives, cooperative-based subject in schools which parents will be done in the share of financial cooperatives, schools are also shareholders? If the parents are shareholders in the financial contribution if they withdraw from school, what happened?Mr. Ed Ball schools based on the principles of social enterprise in what wants to say?Parents in the schools share losses will be?And other issues that are perceived?
    Please answer me my questions. Because I’d love to model in this country do.


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