Let’s bring co-operative education to Wales
This week, the Minister for Education and Skills gave his first response to the Hill review into the future delivery of education services in Wales. He concentrated on and accepted Hill’s recommendations regarding school improvement services and funding regional consortia. The Minister intends to give a full response to Hill’s other recommendations and the subsequent consultation responses at a later date. Among Hill’s recommendations features a co-operative approach to education. While the debate on the future delivery of education services continues, it is worth re-visiting the potential advantages of co-operative education for learners, teachers and local communities.
Schools that adopt co-operative values as part of their culture and ethos will be more democratic, inclusive and collaborative. Co-operative values foster good relationships with learners and parents, with stakeholders encouraged to have their say in the running of the school. Co-operative learning also encourages students to work together, to use their initiative and stimulates students to develop their social and communication skills.
In England many schools have adopted co-operative legal structures and become co-operative trust schools. Co-operative trust schools continue to be Local Authority maintained and remain within the Local Authority family of schools. However this is not essential. Whatever their legal status, schools can formally adopt co-operative values and principles. These schools can then develop co-operative approaches to suit their own needs and local circumstances. They can use co-operative management techniques as well as co-operative engagement methods to work with stakeholders.
Co-operative schools have proved successful in England and have demonstrated some of the advantages of the approach. They are embedded in their communities with key stakeholders guaranteed a voice in the running of the organisation. Schools with co-operative governance structures operate democratically and are accountable to their stakeholders such as learners, parents, staff and the local community.
Co-operative schools often bring in strategic partners and use their experience and expertise to strengthen the leadership and governance of a school. The Aylsham Cluster Trust in Norfolk includes external partners such as the National Trust, the Benjamin Foundation and City College Norwich. In their experience, external partners bring ideas and expertise to the trust and their involvement has broadened their horizons and approaches. The South West Bristol Co-operative works with external partners including the University of the West of England. The University has supported the school in research to help improve teaching and learning.
Schools within cluster co-operative trusts also pool resources and share expertise. The Aylsham Cluster Trust describe how sharing data has increasingly become the norm. They also delivered joint training sessions for teaching and support staff. The South West Bristol Co-operative Learning Trust has also arranged Common Professional Development Days where staff from all the trust schools came together. This allowed them to share knowledge, resources, expertise and good practice.
As the report into the future delivery of education services in Wales notes, shared values, mission and trust are vital ingredients for successful partnership working. This principle is particularly complemented by the co-operative approach which is underpinned by the values and principles of the international co-operative movement. Schools adopt co-operative principles and values and work towards developing their use within their trust and their schools.