Growth of the Cooperative Schools in the UK

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Robin Murray:

"When the history of co-operation in 21st century Britain comes to be written, the remarkable growth of co-operative schools over the past 6 years reported in the Education chapter of this book may have the same inspirational place as that of the Rochdale pioneers in the mid 19th century.

There is the same sense of wildfire growth in them both, of a model that is at the same time visionary and practical, one that is tangibly of the moment. The co-operative movement has from the first highlighted the importance of education. It is the fifth of the seven co-operative principles. The new cooperative schools in England have taken all seven principles and embodied them within the educational process itself. In 1844 the necessities were bread, butter and porridge. Today’s necessities in the information age are the values, the capacities of thought and creativity, which are the bread and butter of a school.

The first co-operative school at Reddish Vale – significantly in Greater Manchester like Rochdale – had no idea that it would be the spark that led to a wildfire. Those who started it did not have a sector strategy, anymore than did the first 28 pioneers in Rochdale. What they had were strong values, and a model of how a self-governing school could work. They had a keen sense of unfolding the future. At each stage Reddish Vale and the many schools that followed moved forward along the paths of possibility, establishing new initiatives, as they were needed. Some were within the school and their communities, some with other co-operative schools.

Where might this remarkable contemporary story of co-operation lead? There will certainly be more schools. The Education chapter points to the opportunities for the extension into other spheres of education, particularly for further education colleges (some of which are already partnering with their local co-op schools). But the possibilities go wider. Education is only one of many relational services. In a relational service the quality of the service depends critically on the relation between the front line staff (the teacher in the case of a school) and the user (the pupil). It also is shaped by the communities in which each are involved (the home and its communities, other users, and the service professions). Multi-stakeholder co-operatives are proving to be a remarkably effective model of governance for services of this kind." (


"5 It took nearly twenty years for the early retail societies to establish the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) in 1863 to purchase collaboratively. The first 15 co-operative schools set up their CWS – the Schools Co-operative Society or SCS - in three. Like the CWS, the SCS is a source of advice and support and acts as a ‘lifeboat’ for any member in difficulty." (