Cooperative schools: Learning to be cooperative in a changing educational landscape
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Through a case study approach, this research considers what it means to be a cooperative school in the 21st Century and how this ideological stance impacts on stakeholders’ experiences. The research sought the perceptions and experiences of 99 staff members, pupils, governors and wider community, to illuminate the act of learning to be cooperative and to explore the role of cooperative schools in the current fractured education landscape in England. Multiple qualitative methods, such as interviews and observations, were used to generate data and Engeström’s Second Generation Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) was used to explore the interconnectivity of a cooperative school and to identify tensions or contradictions which exist. Tensions around performativity and power inequality mean that opportunities also exist for system level learning and so renewal of the system itself.
Whilst cooperative schools are perceived as democratic organisations or ‘hybrid cooperatives’, they represent the inherent tension between cooperativism and neoliberalism. The cooperative schools that form the basis of my research are engaged in the activity of democratisation and enculturation, seeing this as a way of instigating a more just society. In practice, they place greater importance on serving the local community than being democratic organisations, and now fill the community spaces left by current education policy and its promotion of academisation in English schools. Enacting cooperativism on a local scale and meeting the needs of the local community is integral to these two modern cooperative schools.
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