Lipson Community College became a co-operative Trust school in 2009 and a Co-operative Academy in 2012, joining around 200 co-operative schools across England who have adopted a co-operative structure using a model developed by the Co-operative College. Situated in the city of Plymouth in Devon, it is a large, urban secondary school serving some of the most deprived wards in the south west of England. Its intake is comprehensive, but this is affected by three single sex selective grammar schools in its locality.

Sarah Jones, Vice Principal of Lipson Community College, describes the difference the co-operative values have made to her school: “Lipson lives and breathes the values of the International Co-operative Alliance. These values are the basis of our work to develop democratic participation and democratic fellowship in challenging times. We have moved beyond models of co-operative governance, promoting the values explicitly through our approach to teaching and learning, professional development and membership voice. We have also encouraged a number of students to develop their own co-operatives and contribute to the Young Co-operative movement.” One example of this is the Ruptors Street Dance Co-operative.

“”Our dominant pedagogy,” Jones explains “is co-operative learning and this is common across the school. Our Guilds (houses) are the heart of our College. Here students are taught the skills of co-operation in their mixed age specialist tutor groups through participation. Through the Guilds and in their main curriculum subjects, students are encouraged to improve as both interdependent and independent learners. To achieve this, our teachers promote the use of the ‘PIES’ of co-operative learning based on the work of Jolliffe, Kagan and Gilles. We call these: positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation and social interaction. Dialogue is the key to learning, and in a co-operative classroom this thrives. The impact on learning has been reflected not only in outcomes, but in improved levels of engagement and self-confidence.

“Teachers ‘Lipsonise’ many of the approaches that are marketed as co-operative strategies by engaging in co-operative professional development. Here they reflect students’ learning pedagogies by working in base groups, generating and developing each other’s ideas, trailing them and running CPD for the rest of the staff, and with staff from other schools in our partnerships. This is underpinned by a heavy investment in post-graduate research, drawing upon the work of the best educationalists in the world, and doubling up as an evaluative process for our work.

“Membership voice is very important to us. As a Co-operative College we take the value of solidarity and social responsibility seriously. What damages our community hurts us, and the success stories we celebrate together. We regularly run a variety of student voice, parent voice and community voice groups to ensure that everyone who is a member of our Trust can participate in a democratic, responsible and effective way.

“Lipson has been part of the Schools Co-operative Society, the nationwide network of co-operative schools, since its birth, and has been subject to much interest from other co-operative schools and more recently Ofsted, who have highlighted its work on its best practice website citing co-operation as fundamental to the ‘outstanding’ development of SMSC in the College.”