Driven by a desire to keep schools accountable to the local communities they serve, and led by a small group of pioneering head teachers who had been experimenting with operating their schools with a co-operative values-based ethos, a new model of school governance emerged in 2008 – the co-operative foundation trust.

Schools which adopt this model acquire a foundation – their land and assets transfer from the local authority to a locally-run charitable trust. Written into the constitution of these trusts is a commitment to operate the school in accordance with the values of the global co-operative movement namely, self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.

Democratic accountability is ensured through membership. Stakeholders in the school: parents and carers, staff, students, and local people, can become members and elect representatives to the trust board. They hold the school to account for the way in which it implements its co-operative values.

Growth has been rapid and today there are around 800 co-operative schools, with more currently in the process of conversion. Whilst the first trusts were single schools, most now comprise clusters of schools across a geographical area with the structure providing a framework for sharing expertise and resources, ensuring smooth transition, bulk procurement, and stronger schools supporting weaker ones.

There is no blue-print for the education provided by a co-operative trust school, and no ‘top down’ imposition of time-tables, curriculum options, holiday dates, or uniform colour – as prescribed by some of the academy chains. Each trust is an independent co-operative in its own right and as such must make its own decisions about how the values are applied in the day-to-day activities of the school. Implementing the co-operative ethos may be seen vividly in the classroom practices in one co-operative school and more strongly in the engagement with the local community in another. Pupil and staff democracy may be emphasized in yet another school, whilst a strong co-operative and social enterprise curriculum may feature elsewhere.

The Co-operative College, along with its legal partners, offers a comprehensive service to support schools through the process of conversion. Details of this service are given in the ‘First Steps’ brochure which you can download below.

For further information about co-operative trust schools see:

Co-operative Schools: Stronger Together
First Steps
Co-operative Multi Academy Trusts – Where values make a difference
Co-operative Schools – A guide for NASUWT members

If you are a school leader or governor and would like to explore the possibility of your school becoming a co-operative trust school please contact the Co-operative College:
E: schools@co-op.ac.uk
T: 0161 819 3000

CASE STUDY: THE TAME VALLEY CO-OPERATIVE LEARNING TRUST

Six primary schools in Staffordshire have teamed up with the Tamworth Co-operative Society to form the Tame Valley Co-operative Learning Trust, believing that they can achieve more by working together than as individual schools.

The schools have clearly identified the benefits of the co-operative model: “The values of the co-operative movement resonate with us and reflect our commitment to self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. We believe in the co-operative approach to engaging stakeholders and working together for the mutual benefit of our community. The co-operative schools model is also aligned with the Self-Improving Schools System vision of a national and local government.

“We have chosen to become a co-operative Trust because these are the values and principles which we feel should underpin our work – with each other and with our young people.”

Through the Trust, the schools believe they can improve the quality and consistency of teaching and raise aspirations among students, parents and staff, harnessing resources efficiently in the interests of learning and creating the right conditions for enjoyable, effective learning. This includes fostering creativity and innovation in young people through an exciting and challenging curriculum and creating a sense of local pride amongst learners. The schools expect this to have knock-on effects on behaviour and attendance.