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Time for Co-operatives in Education?

Posted in BlogBlog | Dec 07, 2012 | By:

School children at Conwy’s Food Fest, supported by the Co-operative Group

Leighton Andrews surprised many people a few weeks ago when he announced a review of Wales’s education system on 20th November. While the headlines concentrated on the posibility of schools coming out of local authority control, the Minister also mentioned that possibility of schools becoming co-operatives.  Mark Drakeford AM picked this possibility up earlier this week, when he commented “co-operative school models offer a new way of harnessing [the] commitment [of teachers, governing bodies and parents] while retaining the crucial benefits of remaining firmly within the public sector”. 

So what are co-operative schools?  Well, as our report published today explains, they can be schools and colleges that opt-out of their local authorities and are constituted as co-operaties.  There are hundreds across the rest of the UK, although none in Wales, and many seem to have achieved considerable success in improving pupils’ achievements.  But there’s more to it than just co-operative status.

The bigger issue is whether a school has a co-operative ethos.  A co-operative ethos means a school puts democracy, transparency and co-operation with others at the heart of everything it does. It promotes learning through co-operation, it encourages teachers to work together and with other schools, it involves parents, the local community and pupils in its activities and its decision-making.  Co-operative education can also shape the curriculum, ensuring learners are aware of co-operative models of business and of the global dimension to the economy.  

In Scotland, the organisation which supports co-operatives – CETS – has produced a 5-step process towards accreditation as a co-operative school. This doesn’t require changing status. In England, the Trusts and Academies model has encouraged more schools to take up co-operative governance models.  

Whatever the precise form, it looks as if co-operatives are about to arrive in Wales’s education system – the evidence suggests this can only be for the better.

Our report on co-operative education is available on our publications page.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation.

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