The exploitation of teachers

In this series of blogs, I have shown that, as a result of the Education Reform Act 1988, the school system has effectively been privatised. This is not been a simple matter of withdrawing public funding from schools and allowing them to operate as independents within a free market. It is quite difficult to see this process, privatisation is obscured, it is difficult to see the existence of markets or the production of commodities. Indeed, when I imagine a market, I recall the Saturday market in East Retford where I grew up, where produce and goods were bought and sold, it was visible and tangible. School privatisation (and it might be by design) is obfuscated. It is understandable, therefore, that when the idea that schools have been privatised is suggested, it is contested in some quarters, because it is not easy to see the exchange of goods, services and money. Still a valid case can be made as I set out previously.

Yet the consequences of privatisation can be predicted, and the conditions of our system evaluated. In my last blog, I looked at the expansion of two Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), in terms of increasing capital, and I explained that capital, in a freemarket, necessarily has to be accumulated. But I will be developing this further in future blogs when I consider the conditions and consequences vis-à-vis teacher workload, pedagogy and practice, professional development, the recruitment and retention of teachers, scholarship and research, school culture and school improvement.

In this blog I will look at the labour processes within the privatised school system and will show how privatisation – as the private capitalisation of schools – leads to the undermining of teachers’ pay and conditions. But before looking at the exploitation argument, I want to restate my position about the privatisation of schools, but in a slightly different way. Hopefully to clarify, summarise and substantiate my argument in previous blogs. From this I develop an analysis of how teachers are necessarily exploited.

The components of privatisation are: the exchange of goods and services for money, and that businesses or enterprises employ capital for production of commodities or the delivery of services. In a state-owned or public system of schooling there are no markets, the national community pools resources to fund schools. The processes by which this service is defined and regulated is through democratic oversight. In a privatised system the rationale is different, a quasi-market is established and what were treated as resources. in the public system, becomes capital. In public systems resources fund provision, in a privatised system capital is used to produce or provide commodities. The delivery of knowledge commodities is a fundamental aspect of school privatisation, as I discussed previously.

In the privatised school system, the school can be considered as the means of production, or more precisely as a means of providing service and adding value. The following process – where Marx probably had a factory in mind – explains how surplus-value is generated by adding value to the component parts. The role of the teacher in a privatised school system is to add value, through instruction, by the transmission of knowledge: knowledge as a commodity [1].

The transformation of a sum of money into means of production and labour-power is the first phase of the movement undergone by the quantum of value which is going to function as capital. It takes place in the market in the sphere of circulation. The second phase of the movement, the process of production, is complete as soon as the means of production have been converted into commodities whose value exceeds that of their component parts, and therefore contains the capital originally advanced plus a surplus-value (Marx, 1981, p. 709).

In terms of labour, surplus-value is the additional work an individual has to do beyond that which they need to survive. In a state-owned public school, the value of labour is set by the state after having engaged in collective bargaining with the teaching unions. The cost of running schools is therefore the cost of teacher labour, support staff, resources and the maintenance of buildings and equipment. In a publicly-owned system any additional work done by the teacher is for the public good. In a privatised system any extra work becomes surplus-value and is given over to the capitalist enterprise in order to generate further capital. When the education system is privatised, it becomes capitalised, the laws of capital come into play – that is, there is a need for capital accumulation by the capitalised school enterprise:

… through capital surplus value is made, and from surplus value more capital. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus value; surplus value presupposes capitalistic production; capitalistic production presupposes the pre-existence of considerable masses of capital and of labour power in the hands of producers of commodities (Marx, 1981, p. 873).

As a result of privatisation, teachers are under pressure to create surplus-value; there are constant pressures to accumulate capital and so teachers work harder, for longer, they have to be more productive and at reduced levels of pay, unless teachers collectively protect their pay and conditions. These underlying forces are obscured, the extra commitment required of teachers is usually justified in terms of raising standards. The altruism and public-spirited ideals of teachers are exploited to ensure that surplus-value is being increased. This is not to paint headteachers and MAT CEOs as personally avaricious, but once located outside of the public realm, the nature of capital and capitalisation does its work and turns public and community service into the perverse system of inequality and exploitation as described by Marx.

What Marx demonstrated was that if a capitalist system is left unchecked, and to run its course, capital becomes concentrated, i.e. the wealthy become wealthier. But those working in the system become progressively poorer and exploited. When this idea is translated to public services in neoliberal reforms, the workforce becomes increasingly exploited. In the last four blogs I have presented an analysis of the effects of school policy, beginning with privatisation through the Education Reform Act (1988), then looking at the commodification of knowledge, followed by the capitalisation of schools. I have now completed this analysis, drawing on Marx, and show how this leads to a negative impact on teachers’ pay and conditions. In the next blog I will consider the extent to which this is borne out in reality.

Notes

1. As I pointed out in previous blogs, this is a reductive view of the situation to point out underlying forces and does not reflect the wider commitment demonstrated by the profession.

References

Ball, S. J. (2004). Education for Sale! The Commodification of Everything? The Annual Education Lecture 2004. King’s College, London. Retrieved from
Marx, K. (1981). Capital: a critique of political economy. (D. Fernbach, Trans.) (Vol. 1). London ; New York, N.Y: Penguin Books in association with New Left Review.

Capital and privatised schools

This is part three of my series of blogs which presents a critique of the privatisation of schools in England. In the first part I argued how the Education Reform Act (1988) created, effectively, a voucher plan for schools, a market was created, with per-pupil funding and specification of what schools as private operators would provide as a service, through the introduction of a national curriculum and national assessments. Following this, and having shown how the market was created, in the second part I use Marx’s theory of political economy to show the creation of knowledge commodities. My purpose for introducing the idea of commodity is to show how schools have become capitalist enterprises, outside of the state, and in turn how this has an impact on teachers’ working conditions, pay and access to quality continuing professional development. Overall, in this series of posts, I want to show how the privatised state education system undermines the professional status of teachers. My discussion of teachers’ work will come in the next blog. In this blog, I want to concentrate on the idea of capital. My overall argument is that teachers’ working conditions, how capital works in market-oriented enterprises and the production and provision of commodities are interlinked components of privatisation.

So, in this post my emphasis is on capital in the context of schools. What I will show here, drawing on the work of Marx is that schools, or a chain of schools operating within a marketized system has but one option and that is to accumulate capital. But before sketching out that argument, I should explain the idea of capital.

What is capital?

The Oxford English Dictionary presents an interesting etymology. The first recorded use of capital is c1225 as relating to the head, something at-the-top, to represent the principal or chief or important person. It is interesting that these early references to the use of the term capital in English are representative of power and capacity to coerce subordinates. In the sixteenth century capital broadened its meaning to include financial assets and thereby implying a recognition of the close relationship of money and power. In the nineteenth century, it was to represent profit, advantage and power. The contemporary term, interestingly integrates two aspects, a financial component and power.

The classical political economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo, referred to capital but were not specific about its meaning or indeed its nature. While they both saw capital as related to production of commodities and so to labour value, but apart from recognising that individuals could accumulate capital, they did not give it further consideration. Marx, however, was more precise about what capital was, in the sense of its social function and dynamic nature. Marx, argued that capital could be money, commodities or the means of production. But it had to be in circulation, either money being used to buy commodities and subsequently sell them or, as commodities being sold to buy other commodities. Inherently within the notion of capital is exchange of commodities and money. Like Smith and Ricardo, Marx relates capital to production and the cost of labour. Therefore, within capital, there is a labour cost, since circulation involves commodities. The relationship becomes important when I discuss teachers’ pay and conditions in the next blog but for now I will park the idea here.

Capital provides the means to produce commodities and to buy labour to enable this process. In my previous post I presented an analysis of the commodification of knowledge. The National Curriculum and the existence of national assessment codify knowledge commodities. The work of a school is the transfer of knowledge commodities to students[1]. The notional contract between the student and the school is to provide a minimum addition of knowledge commodity to the child’s level of knowledge on entering the school. If the school does not fulfil its side of the contract the student can go to another school. Or, if the school is not fulfilling its notional contractual requirements, the government can ask another organisation to take responsibility.

If schools are seen as producers or as service providers in the delivery of knowledge commodities in a market, then the role of the leadership becomes that of capitalist. They have to deploy capital for the provision of the service, in other words they have to employ teachers and support staff and maintain the school buildings and market the school. But they also have to accumulate capital to expand and to maintain a competitive edge in the market.

Marx showed that necessity of capitalists to incessantly increase capital. Chapter 25 of Capital Volume 1 sets out a general theory of capital accumulation. In one sense the accumulation of capital might be seen in terms of a thirst for wealth, that no matter how wealthy you are that thirst cannot be quenched. This was the classical political economist view of capital accumulation posited by Smith and Ricardo. For Marx, with a view of capital as dynamic and as money and commodity in circulation, capital accumulation is conceptually richer. The need for accumulation is driven by the need to respond to competition, who themselves will be engaged in capital accumulation, and one significant form of capital accumulation is through expansion in order to try and dominate the market. In Marx’s day that would mean acquiring more factories. In terms of schools, it means that the capitalist school leader necessarily is driven to run more schools. It is this principle that largely underpins the growth of a Multi Academy Trust.

The number of Multi Academy Trusts has grown from 391 in 2011 to 846 by July 2015 (Hill, 2015). The Harris Federation of South London Schools and Ark Schools are two large and established academy chains. I will look at the growth of each of these in more depth. The Harris Federation has its beginnings under the Thatcher government and just after the 1988 Education Reform Act. Phillip Harris, who amassed wealth retailing carpet and furniture, was asked by Margaret Thatcher to take over Sylvan School in Crystal Palace and to establish a City Technology College (CTC) (Graham, 2013). The Harris Federation now runs 41 primary and secondary schools. It is a private limited company by guarantee, incorporated in 2007, with three subsidiaries: Harris Academies Projects Limited, HCTC Enterprises Limited and Harris Professional Services Limited. It held net assets of £343,416,000 in 2015 which has grown from £86,437,000 in 2008 when it ran 6 schools.

Ark Schools was established in 2004 and now runs 31 schools with net assets[2] of £369,539,000 (2015) which has grown from one school in 2006, its net assets were £2,292,000. Ark Schools is part of a group of operations Ark UK Programmes Limited, Ark South Africa Limited, Ark Zimbabwe Trust, Ark Uganda, Ark India and Absolute Return for Kids US, Inc (Ark US). Collectively these hold net assets of £19,389,000 and publish separate accounts to Ark Schools to satisfy the funding agreement with the Department for Education.

The growth of these and other Multi Academy Trusts has been largely achieved through the transfer of state-owned assets to these private companies. However, the accumulation of capital is usually a result of the surplus value generated by the workforce. That is the difference between the exchange value of the commodity (or service provided) and the necessary labour cost i.e. that which the worker needs to live on. It is not clear the extent to which capital is being accumulated by the growing Multi Academy Trusts since their growth, as I have said, is largely through the transfer of capital from the state. However, as I will show in the next blog the undermining of teachers’ pay and conditions can be attributed to the privatisation process. And as predicted by Marx, the exploitation of workers contributes to capital accumulation. In fact the central thesis of the three volumes of Capital is that if the freemarket and its invisible hand is allowed to prevail, capital accumulates and workers become increasingly exploited. I am applying the same thesis in the context of the privatisation of schools. First by showing that there is evidence for privatisation, second by showing that schools now involve knowledge commodities and third by showing, in this blog, the incessant and inherent need for capital accumulation within a capitalist system.

In the next blog, I look at how teachers’ pay and conditions become undermined in these conditions of privatisation. And how this has an impact on teachers’ access to continuing professional development and professionalism and professional standing.

Notes

[1] I appreciate how hard teachers work in providing a rich and fulfilling experience at school, as well as in providing pastoral support. My analysis here is abstracted to capital, commodity and labour.

[2] I accept that net assets are not equivalent to capital, but I am assuming that to illustrate capital accumulation these values for net assets are proportional to capital. The growth in net assets therefore indicates the extent of capital accumulation.

References

Graham, N. (2013, April 26). CarpetRight’s Lord Harris reflects on a lifetime in the rug trade. Financial Times. London.

Hill. (2015, August 31). The rise and rise of multi-academy trusts – latest DfE data. Retrieved from https://roberthilleducationblog.com/2015/08/31/the-rise-and-rise-of-multi-academy-trusts-latest-dfe-data/

Schools in England were privatised in 1988

The Education Reform Act 1998 (ERA) marked the point at which government started the process of privatising England’s state schools. Hywel Thomas, Emeritus Professor of Economics of Education, offered an analysis of ERA in 1990. Chapter 3 of the legislation set out profound changes to school financing, these measures are referred to as the  Local Management of Schools (LMS). The introduction of LMS provides the technological basis for privatisation.

Privatisation: public to private sector

It is important to be clear what privatisation means. The common definition is the process by which a public organisation is passed to the private sector. But it is necessary to clarify what I mean by public and private sector. To this aim I draw on Young’s (1986) definitions:

…the public sector [my emphasis] is used to describe those organisations created directly by government or by local authorities. Their status is usually statutory, or at least heavily dependent on the parent authority. They are financed mainly, and usually entirely, from public funds. Their work is directly linked to public policy, and their organisational structure is such that they are accountable to, and controlled by, ministers or local authority councillors  (Young, 1986, p. 236).

…’private sector‘ [my emphasis] is used as an umbrella term to describe what remains. It thus covers not just privately owned or publicly quoted companies, but interest groups, pressure groups, the voluntary sector, charities and the range of trusts, enterprise agencies and similar bodies that have emerged in recent years. In practice some of these organisations – like companies in which government holds part of the equity – straddle the boundary between the public and private sectors  (Young, 1986, p. 236).

 The voucher system – privatisation US style

A voucher system or voucher plan is a system through which parents are given vouchers in order that they can choose to spend them at any school, public or private, to buy education services for their children. The voucher plan effectively makes parents customers in an education marketplace where they can exercise choice.

Thomas (1990) argues that Local Management of Schools, as created by the Education Reform Act 1988, effectively created a voucher plan. While parents did not have full flexibility to exercise choice, for example, it was not possible to buy services outside the state system, it effectively created a market place with some choice. And turned schools into private-sector enterprises.

Thomas (1990) shows that LMS creates a voucher system through five legislative elements: financial delegation to schools; formula funding, open enrolment; staffing delegation and performance indicators. It is these five elements that recreate the state school as a private sector enterprise.

  1. Financial delegation schools were given day-to-day control over their budgets, where it was previously with the Local Education Authority. It is this move that subtly shifts the school into the private sector, according to Young’s definition above. It is grey, because the school does not entirely have control over its equity, but taken with the other four elements it clearly shifts from public to private. Headteachers and governors gained considerable power over their budgets, they had flexibility in respect to the selection of subcontractors for things such as maintenance and repairs. The essence is the locus of control shifted from public to private.
  2. Formula funding – this element marks the creation of a quasi-voucher system. Funding became pupil driven with 75 per cent of funds allocated by formula and the funds were required to be tied to a pupil. The stated aim was that ‘…schools have a clear incentive to attract and retain pupils’ (Circular 7/88, Para. 105) so emphasising competition and choice.
  3. Open enrolment – parents could move children to more popular schools and the funding went with them. This meant the creation of a quasi-market with schools effectively in competition.
  4. Staffing delegation – boards of governors gained the powers of appointment, suspension and dismissal. This links to future performance management as teachers become more accountable for pupils. Effectively teachers’ employment was connected to pupil performance. Even if, for the time being, the link was not overt, but mechanisms were created.
  5. Performance indicators – examination results and national assessment tests were used as quality indicators. There were two reasons for this: parents needed data to make choices and the government needed a mechanism for assessing the performance of a school through centralised accountability. The latter is an important separation from a shared public project to an outsourced private provision of education.

Final words

The Education Reform Act 1988 and the introduction of Local Management of Schools marked the beginnings of the privatisation of schools using the five elements set out above. This process has developed, almost seamlessly, regardless of political party, through to the present. Having identified the foundations of privatisation, in subsequent pieces of writing I plan to show how this has developed, to look at its impact on teachers’ workload and access to continuing professional development and to look at this in terms of wider political economy.

We should not kid ourselves that our schools remain in the public sector, they haven’t and ERA and LMS were the instruments that allowed it to happen.

References

Thomas, H. (1990). From Local Financial Management to Local Management of Schools. In M. Flude & M. Hammer (Eds.), The Education Reform Act, 1988: its origins and implications. London ; New York: Falmer Press.
Young, S. (1986). The nature of privatisation in Britain, 1979–85. West European Politics, 9(2), 235–252. https://doi.org/10.1080/01402388608424576

Co-operative schools: an answer to forced academization?

I would like to thank Mark Merrywest, Eastern Region Director of the Co-operative Schools Network for his contribution to this post

I became interested in co-operative schools after speaking to a colleague from the Educational Leadership and School Improvement academic group in the Faculty of Education here in Cambridge. I mentioned I had been writing about my experience of teaching in a school in special measures in North East Lincolnshire. I explained my interest in shared leadership, stakeholder and community participation and governance. He alerted to me to the existence of a growing movement of co-operative schools. It is estimated that there are approximately 850 primary and secondary co-operative schools in England, with approximately 50 of these being academies[1].  Yet they do not get much attention from the media and Government. Although, Warwick Mansell wrote about co-operative schools in The Guardian in 2011, and on the Government website there is a document examining the potential of mutuals in public services. The co-operative school model was originally envisaged as an alternative to academization with an overarching foundation trust being formed to support larger groups of schools. With hindsight many schools joined these groups with the intention of staving off forced academization and some trusts demonstrate different levels of co-operation than others. Protection from forced change has not turned out to be possible, however the model is still sound with many high performing trusts operating very successfully around the country.

My purpose for writing this post is to argue that co-operative schools present a viable solution to address some of the fundamental issues in educational reform. I want to promote some discussion, provide links to resources and ideas, and introduce what I hope to be a line of future research in collaboration with schools and other organisations. But before going further, for those not familiar with the principles of mutuals and co-operatives, it is worth watch the following. If you are more familiar, then read on.

I have a long-term (albeit passing) interest in mutualization. As a result of working in  a range of sectors, I have long thought about how best to empower professionals within an organisation. This has led me to believe that professional empowerment and quality of service is more likely when professionals and users are stakeholders within that organisation.

It is worth explaining how my interest in school organisation, leadership and culture relates to my research: research concerned with teaching and learning mathematics. There has been something of a tradition, in mathematics education research, to focus on activities, tasks, and learning acts, dialogue and behaviours. The classroom is all too frequently viewed in isolation to the school and to policy. My first major piece of research was concerned with the professional development (PD) of secondary mathematics teachers (Watson, 2014). I concluded that PD is not sustained unless its aims are consistent with the school culture. PD can facilitate teacher innovation by empowering teachers to investigate and evaluate alternative approaches in their classrooms. But unless there is a culture of innovation, collegiality and collaborative autonomy the effects of PD are not sustained. This research in four mathematics departments, over two terms, illustrated how hierarchical and managerial approaches undermine the long-term impact of PD. It made me realise that effective PD is inseparable from school organisation and culture.

The structure of a co-operative school facilitates democratic input, not only from pupils, staff and leaders, but also the wider community, especially parents. My eight years teaching in North East Lincolnshire, and latterly Lincolnshire, confirmed to me that community involvement is vital (see my blog post here). I accept that this is not easy, the community can be reluctant and may feel that they are not equipped to participate, but it is necessary that schools work toward supporting community involvement. A co-operative approach is more likely to contribute to this as it is a core and fundamental value.

Education Excellence (and Mutuals) Everywhere

My interest in mutualization of schools and co-operative education was rekindled recently by the publication of the Government’s White Paper, Education Excellence Everywhere . It occurred to me that the White Paper, should it become policy, provides an opportunity to develop co-operative education further, since the overall approach may address many of the issues that schools face at present.

In the White Paper, Government proposes to academize all schools in England by 2022. This is in spite of limited evidence that academies perform any better than Local Authority (LA) schools. This also removes the possibility of schools having a foundation status [2] which is the legal status of  most existing co-operative schools. Forced academization has not received a warm reception, except from stalwart enthusiasts of Tory school reforms. People from across the political divide have objected to the diminished role of the LA and reduction in the role of parent governors. The White Paper has also been criticised for not addressing immediate difficulties. Chief amongst headteachers’ current concerns is recruitment and retention, especially in shortage subjects. Teachers’ morale is low, according to a recent National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey, over fifty per cent of teachers want to leave the profession. The sources of dissatisfaction are ascribed to excessive workload.

Interestingly, the opposition are vocally supportive of co-operatives. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, wants more mutuals and co-operatives in the public and private sector. It is also worth noting, the previous Coalition Government has also backed a mutual approach to the public sector.

The thorny issue of parents and community

The White Paper seeks to abandon the requirement for parental governors. There has been something of a protest over this and the diminished role of voluntary governors, as the preferred model moves towards an advisory board of individuals with ‘specialist skills’. In response to protests, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Nash, presented a softened position.

High quality governance and leadership is especi ally important as we devolve more power from local and national government to schools – and it is critical to our vision of an autonomous school-led system. We want schools to be able to make the decisions about what is right for them – and this includes the expertise and experience that they need on their governing board. That is why we were clear in the White Paper that those on governing boards should be those with the right mix of skills to help improve schools and support leaders and not people chosen simply on the grounds that they represent one particular group, be that parents, the Local Authority or staff (Nash, 2016).

Even in this, Lord Nash, sees governance in terms of the maximisation of outputs rather than in terms of stakeholder participation. For further discussion on Lord Nash’s views on parent governors, see Bennett (2016).

However, it is fundamental that schools fully engage with the communities which they serve. Even if this is not straightforward.

Autonomy + accountability = deprofessionalisation

Underpinning the White Paper’s academization plan is an assumption that school autonomy leads to more effective education. This principle goes back to the 2010 White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. While this sounds appealing, autonomy does not generally extend to teachers. As Glatter (2012) observes:

… autonomy is a subtle and relative concept, varying in nature and degree by context, activity (such as curriculum, assessment, resource management) and level. For example an earlier international study of 11 countries found that when school systems were decentralized institutional leaders tended to enjoy more autonomy but the impact on teaching and support staff was questionable as concerns about their job security increased … (Glatter, 2012, p. 565).

The international study that Glatter refers to, suggests that changes to teachers’ contracts limits practitioner autonomy within a decentralised system. I argue further that accountability contributes to limitations in the way in which teachers can act autonomously. This is supported by Mausethagen (2013), who from a review of research, found that the overall impact of accountability, i.e. a focus on examination results, reduced the relationship-oriented aspects of a teacher’s practice. There was a narrowing of focus.

My own experience, as a teacher, is that accountability leads to a results-driven culture, where the emphasis is on examination outcomes. These narrow definitions of success are concomitant with hierarchical and managerial cultures: a mechanism with which success in limited goals is achieved. School and headteacher autonomy can contribute to this, as borne out by research in the Netherlands (Noordegraaf & De Wit, 2012).

Education Excellence Everywhere and its predecessor The Importance of Teaching talk in terms of outcomes rather than processes. Outputs and  outcomes become too narrow, focussing on examination results, rather than young peoples’ broader successes and achievements. The policy intention was to give headteachers and teachers the freedom to use whatever approach they feel is necessary. This was Michael Gove’s promise of letting teachers teach. However, the consequence of this, combined with intense and narrow accountability, leads to diminished professional judgement. The organisational mission – which might be stated in terms of a broad educationally moral purpose – in reality, becomes reduced to delivery of results. Performance management is confined to narrow outcomes. In the most extreme examples, there is high staff-turnover, low staff morale and high levels of stress. It is not unsurprising that since the introduction of policy promoting school autonomy, there have been increased difficulties in recruitment and retention and professional dissatisfaction. It is also unsurprising the response Nick Gibb received at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) conference:

Not all schools and academies operate a managerial culture of compliance and there are many examples where academies afford teachers professional autonomy. There are many excellent headteachers that retain a school mission that is holistic and responsive to the needs of the community it serves. They continue to ensure that teachers retain their professionalism and promote collegiality. From my own experience and from my research, it is in the struggling school, the school in tough circumstances, the school where examination results are below expectations where problems arise. It might be inexperienced leadership and through desperation, that compliance cultures emerge and a regime of fear and performativity appears. It can also arise as a result of limiting headteachers’ professional autonomy. With the Government’s preference for Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), a chain of centrally managed schools, the headteacher can lose their professional autonomy. They become subordinate to a MAT executive headteacher or CEO.

What can a co-operative education offer?

So how does a co-operative education offer a different approach should forced academization become a reality? Since their conception in the mid 19thCentury co-operatives have been created to meet similar needs to those we are facing with schools today. Leaving aside the detailed area of co-operative management and learning, co-operative education can offer a better way of working together. The co-operative values and principles provide a core basis for a joint vision and way of working that enables groups of like-minded schools to create more value than the sum of their parts. The key elements for school structure in particular are:

Voluntary and Open membership – There is much speculation in the press regarding small and rural schools not being ‘wanted’ by larger academy groups. Co-operatives should be open to membership from any group or schools who share the key values and principles of co-operation.

Equality and Equity – schools need the ability to work together on an equal footing without the need for one of their number to take a lead. Their joint mission and collaborative support will ensure that all will succeed. This actually encourages a ‘bottom-up’ way of working from an operations management perspective.

Member economic participation – through the creation of a jointly owned mutual operation, members contribute to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative. This means that no one school or individual can benefit from any surplus, which is kept for the benefit of all. Services and improvement initiatives can be traded with other groups, particularly other co-operatives.

Democratic Member control – within the defined framework from the Department for Education, there are large elements of control which can be delegated to the individual schools. This is at the core of co-operative values and should always be a major part of co-operative education. Membership can stretch to all stakeholders including the parents and the local community.

Autonomy and Independence – co-operatives work hard to maintain the autonomy and independence of their individual parts which still maintain their link to the bigger picture. This key principle is vital within a school system setup to default to a central ‘top-down’ model.

Co-operative schools and academies under the wider banner of co-operative education are still accountable to the same performance measures e.g. Ofsted and test results, as any other group. The approach internal approach taken to meet these external measures however is encouraged to be fundamentally different.

The key to any co-operative is to buy in to the vision and ethos as the partnership only works if everyone participates. These principles above are not simply a-nice-to-have or a utopian view, they are key principles outlined and used by co-operatives internationally. Foundation and academy trusts adopting this approach, should they wish, can clearly benefit from a well defined co-operative business model and shared vision.

Possible research questions

I conclude this post by considering some possible research questions. I would be keen to hear from individuals, groups or organisations interested in developing a research programme along these lines.

  • To what extent does accountability act as a barrier to implementing a mutual organisational model?
  • How do co-operative schools ensure that stakeholders participate (for example, parents in low socio-economic contexts)?
  • What are the processes and experiences of a school transitioning to a mutual model?

Further information

There are co-operative groups across the country offering support, information, advice and guidance for schools who may wish to use a co-operative approach.  Further information can be found on the websites below.

Schools Co-operative Society Website – The overaching membership body representing all co-operative schools.

http://www.co-operativeschools.coop/

Co-operative Academies Trust – the academy trust operating in the North of England under the banner of the Co-operative Retail group – the well known high street stores

http://co-operative.academy/

Co-operative Schools Network – Local networks of co-operative educators working on the ground across the country to support co-operative schools

http://csnetwork.coop/

Co-operative College – The originators of the Co-operative Foundation Trust model providing resource and support for co-operative schools

http://www.co-op.ac.uk/

Notes:

[1] Based on an estimate supplied to me by Mark Merrywest of the  Co-operative Schools Network, 2 April, 2016.

[2] In England and Wales, a foundation school is a state-funded school in which the governing body has greater freedom in the running of the school than in community schools. Foundation schools were set up under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to replace grant-maintained schools, which were funded directly by central government. Grant-maintained schools that had previously been voluntary controlled or county schools (but not voluntary aided) usually became foundation schools.

Foundation schools are a kind of “maintained school”, meaning that they are funded by central government via the local education authority, and do not charge fees to students. As with voluntary controlled schools, all capital and running costs are met by the government. As with voluntary aided schools, the governing body employs the staff and has responsibility for admissions to the school, subject to rules imposed by central government.

References

Bennett, M. (2016, March 25). The Schools Business. Retrieved from http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2016/03/25/matthew-bennett/the-schools-business/
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