The reform of the school system in England over recent years has brought both new freedoms and new challenges which have led schools in many parts of the country to seek co-operative, values-based solutions. As public spending cuts have removed services formerly provided by local authorities, many schools have begun to explore the benefits of mutuality – supporting each other, sharing services, and combining their purchasing power.
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“Emblematic of the opportunity to embed structures nurturing an alternative ethos in the education system is the growth in recent years of cooperative schools within the state system in England. They institutionalize values and ways of working which express cooperative ideals of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.”
Professor Philip A. Woods
“At a time of significant change in the education system, members see the cooperative model as an imaginative answer to their desire for both institutional freedom and to contribute to the good of all young people in their local area. The model they have developed provides a civic governance alternative to both traditional bureaucratic democracy in the form of local authorities and more recent market-oriented alternatives.”
– Institute for Public Policy Research
The engagement of the co-operative movement with education is nothing new. When it started in the mid-nineteenth century, the co-operative movement provided educational activities for members and their families, and education is one of the underpinning principles of the co-operative movement globally.
The first known co-operative school was established by the followers of Robert Owen in Salford in the 1830s, and in recent years the UK co-operative sector has widened its engagement with schools. Inspiring a new generation to support and engage with co-operative values and principles is a key part of the Co-operative College’s work.
Why we work with schools
Over 50 years ago, A V Alexander MP, a Co-operative Party supported Member of Parliament described a visit he had made to a school:
“I asked them if they could tell me how many wives Henry VIII had and what were their names. The majority of boys in the class could answer that question straight away, but when I asked if they could tell me who was Robert Owen and when he was born, or on what day the British co-operative movement was founded, they could not give me any answer.”
In many schools today the answer would remain the same which is why the Co-operative College supports efforts to get co-operation and its values understood in schools.