Members of Unicorn worker co-operative visiting a nearby co-operative school at Whalley Range

Executive Summary

This case study discusses the growth of a new co-operative sector in England during the past ten years which has been one of the movement’s success stories. The development of more than 700 schools as multi stakeholder co-operatives has been aptly described as ‘a quiet revolution’. Moreover, this ‘revolution’ has occurred during the past decade against what might at first sight seem very unpromising circumstances given a rapidly changing educational environment with frequent major policy shifts and unremitting media attention. Schools have been under constant pressure to continually improve performance and examination results.

Changes in the legal and policy environment have created opportunities for the genesis of new co-operative governance models in education. Two legal models for co-operative schools are operational: Foundation Trusts and Academy Trusts. Both use a multi-stakeholder co-operative model which aims to provide a voice in the running of the school of all interest groups – staff, students, parents and the wider community. Membership is drawn from all these groups and includes even the younger pupils.

Gaining legal recognition is only the start of a journey for a co-operative school. There is no single universal template for all co-operative schools and the day-to-day policies and practices in co-operative schools remain widely divergent.  As co-operative schools have been set up in response to local needs, and with such a rapidly growing sector, no single blueprint for a co-operative school has emerged or indeed is likely to.

This case study examines the emergence of co-operative schools in England, explores how they function and assesses their wider impact. To read more, download the full Co-operative Schools in the UK case study written by Linda Shaw*.

* Dr Linda Shaw is Vice Principal at the Co-operative College in Manchester responsible for research and international programmes.

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