Is there a need for Co-operative Education in Wales?
- What would an ‘excellent‘ Co-operative Education system in Wales look like?
- How can Co-operative Education in schools engage communities and embrace adult learning?
- Can curriculum development and teacher training be given a co-operative nudge?
- What opportunities are opened up by the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015?
- If we are serious and determined about the need to transform Wales the surest route must be via a transformative education policy that takes Wales forward in a far more creative direction that ever previously conceived or envisaged. The Welsh Assembly has been clear that it will not be adopting the English strategy of separating schools from LEA’s and creating academies and free schools. Rather than focusing upon structure, a radical co-operative education philosophy could deliver the education improvements needed to move Wales up the world educational ladder toward better performance and a far more valuable outcomes for the local and wider community.
- The narrow approach to education focused upon addressing pupil deficits has not served Wales as well as might have been hoped and there is a strong case for developing an education philosophy based upon “capability theory”, which seeks to build upon identified pupil strengths. Co-operative learning could complement this model, as opposed to the relentless competitive approach which pits pupil against pupil, teacher against teacher and school against school throughout Wales.
- The nature of co-operation is “bottom up rather than top down” which seeks to engage people and communities by involving and empowering them. A co-operative philosophy could result in a more collaborative approach taken to education by children, in groups across classes, between schools, within local communities and local businesses. Teachers should work more closely as parts of a bigger team; be it within a department, across a discipline or as between a cluster of schools in a defined geographical area.
- Whereas head teachers might in the past be driven by individualistic competition and achievement (pupil, department or school), the achievements and rewards applying a co-operative approach could be so much broader and deeper where educational establishments are part of a network of schools or a hub of further and adult education from which business, community, families and whole estates reap the rewards.
- This approach is not to rule out competition, nor measurement of attainment and achievement, but the balance between co-operation and competition begins to favour the former, with lesser emphasis but nevertheless some regard for the latter where appropriate.
- This would be a sea change in education, but may well find favour from schools, teachers, pupils and parents if they can see that the benefit for the greater good means that wider communities are more closely connected to the education and upbringing of the local pupils, with much more successful outcomes.
- The fight for resources on a competitive basis as between schools should be reduced with the new emphasis upon sharing resources, knowledge and skills. Weaknesses are more likely to be addressed on a collective basis and gaps in provision are more easily plugged between a cluster of schools working together. Schools can pool specialisms so that supply and demand are more easily matched up. Teacher shortages can be “smoothed” out across a group of schools working together.
- As the upsides of co-operation are learnt, so more co-operation follows in a virtuous circle. Collective working will reap benefits that might previously have been overlooked; covering teacher sickness; organising exams; arranging school trips; funding specialist activities (music, drama, business classes); ensuring sports equipment is available etc.
- Teacher training in the broad co-operative philosophy will be crucial if we are to bring about the necessary changes desired. This will need to be properly resourced and will benefit from a pilot process followed by cascading best practice…
Reference to co-operative and co-operation, is not therefore to be wrapped in complex theory or terminology. Using the word “co-operative” (small c) in a much more generalised, basic way could demonstrate the following features, facets and benefits of a co-operative approach to education:
- Co-operation as an educative process as opposed to competition as an educative process.
- Co-operation which drives learning through teamwork.
- Co-operation which offers wider collective outcomes for learning and education.
- Co-operation as a means of making the learning process and education more fun and more interesting.
- Co-operation as a more creative way of problem solving and thus learning or educating.
- Co-operation which has the facets of collaboration and sharing for the widest learning for all, way beyond the individual pupil.
- Co-operation which emphasizes group learning as opposed to the current predominant individualistic learning process.
- Co-operation which emphasizes the benefits of this (co-operative) learning process almost as much as the learning outcomes.
- Co-operation which recognises the value of education for the benefit of the wider community.
- Co-operation as a philosophy; especially when juxtaposed with competition (capitalism) as the dominant philosophy.
- An explanation about the 7 principles and 10 values underpinning co-operation. *
- Co-operation doesn’t have to be about creating co-operatives, but simply working together co-operatively; joint activity, joint goals and learning objectives and joint education all of which enhance the learning process.
Most people do not and will never be creating co-operatives, so this emphasis is more basic and connected with the every day reality of peoples’ lives and thus helps to make a connection more likely and a shared understanding easier. If we can all have co-operation in common, it is more likely to succeed.
A comprehensive co-operative education philosophy would be underpinned by co-operative values and principles*.
|* Co-operative Values & Principles
Members joining together and making a difference. Whether it’s supporting a national charity like British Red Cross or working in their local community.
Every member doing their bit, making our co-op a success by supporting its activities and using its products and services. They encourage others to support it too.
All members are equal. Voting power can’t be bought – it’s one member, one vote.
Our co-op gives all members an opportunity to get involved, like campaigning for fair trade.
Co-op is committed to fairness.
Together we’re stronger, so members join together to help their co-op achieve even more
Caring for others
Voluntary and open membership
Anyone over 16 who likes the way we do business can join.
Any member can vote, if they’ve spent £250 in a year. That’s only £4.80 a week.
Member economic participation
We want every member to be a loyal customer. It’s our responsibility to give them a good reason to be.
Autonomy and independence
We’re only accountable to our members, not shareholders.
Education, training and information
We’ll give members what they need to play a full part in our business, including all the information they need to make informed choices – whether that’s buying a funeral plan or a loaf of bread.
Co-operation among co-operatives
We work with, and support, other co-operatives in lots of areas, for example, jointly buying from our suppliers to keep prices lower for customers.
Concern for the community
We use our profits to support the local communities we serve and give back to members.
These values and principles will help take Wales through the transformative process necessary to bring about a more confident, independent, inclusive and cohesive society, united and pulling together in the same direction. A co-operative education policy will demonstrate features that mark out this change in direction towards equity, self-responsibility, self help and solidarity. These include:
- Greater School Democracy: This will be demonstrated by the involvement of pupils in governance structures such as school councils; which show that accountability and responsibility go hand in hand in mature schools with a true co-operative ethos. It is also more likely to create young people who feel more empowered and engaged with the rest of society when they embark upon a career after leaving school.
- “Community of Enquiry”: This is a very democratic approach to deal with a multitude of school issues which allows, indeed empowers pupils, parents, teachers, governors and the local community to have a real say in the way the school is run. The “Community of Enquiry” process is convened as a means of resolving issues between parties by bringing them together resulting in valuable engagement, which demonstrates fundamentally that all parties can have their say and therefore feel they have ownership of the outcomes, by which all are more likely to abide.
|“Community of Enquiry” Process (rules of engagement):
One person starts and we all should listen
- Schools Perceived to have or be owned by “stakeholders”: This is another paradigm shift reflecting the “bottom up rather than top down” approach of the co-operative model. Stakeholders will include, the head teacher, pupils, teachers, parents, the local education authority (LEA), the teaching union(s) and the local community including local businesses. Many nearby businesses would anticipate employing a large number of pupils as they graduate from the school.
- Union Learning Representatives (ULR’s): ULR’s will be at the forefront of supported adult learning and second opportunity learning usually in the workplace. Unions are embedded across the workforce so that ULR’s are in a position to reach the workers a more formalistic structures approach to education often fails to reach. Created by the Labour government in 1997, ULR’s have been slowly marginalised in the last decade, so that their potential cannot be realised without a renewed funding, encouragement and support.
- Emphasis upon empowerment: In order to maximise the potential of a school, the teaching staff, the head teacher, the pupils, parents and the local community, must be given a sense of empowerment to join in and feel involved with their local school(s) as part of the community.
- Renewed emphasis upon the Open University Cymru: The Open University has brought about a more open and accessible education for all, regardless of means and qualifications achieved. Created by the Labour Party in 1969 it would be in the forefront of the democratisation of education in Wales.
- Creation of a Co-operative University: This would provide another symbolic shift toward the co-operative ethos, whilst also providing a beacon for all that is best in co-operative thinking and taking forward co-operation in a way that retains its relevance in the 21st century. It would be the generator of new ideas, innovation and business opportunities so that it’s positive influence went far beyond its walls right across Wales.
Education is at the heart of so much that determines all the key metrics of a strong, vibrant and cohesive nation: Levels of poverty, wealth, health, fitness even happiness, confidence and identity are inextricably linked to education. Hence taking the Welsh education system into a more radical co-operative philosophy could fundamentally affect all of the above for the better. These changes will take many years to establish and embed, but they relate far more to philosophy than to actual structural or physical changes, so that they relate to core values and beliefs, which once understood and shared more widely across Wales the educational transformation and breakthrough could be remarkably dramatic with amazing outcomes for all the communities, villages, towns and cities in Wales.
Chris Hall; North & Mid Wales Co-operative Party