National Mood

6th October 2021

We are at our desks on this first Wednesday of October, reeling from the gap between the Prime Minister’s words this morning and the reality experienced by so many across the country. Even the libertarian think tank the Adam Smith Institute has called Johnson’s speech ‘bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterate’.

The government has pivoted from denying any supply chain crisis or rise in the cost of living a few weeks ago to now claiming that these are painful short-term necessities for transforming Britain to a high wage, high skill economy. The Prime Minister made only two policy announcements in his speech – tougher sentences for eco-activists; £3000 for Maths and Science teachers who move to work in disadvantaged areas. The second isn’t new: it’s the relaunching of a scrapped policy from 2019, and might simply be a shifting of the dwindling pool of STEM teachers across the map. The rest was rhetoric, red meat, and painful humour. 

Meanwhile, most significantly, the most disadvantaged families woke up today to find themselves up to £1000 a year poorer with the scrapping of the Universal Credit top up, as the cost of living itself continues to rise. All done by a chancellor who is purportedly worth £200 million and wears £2000 cashmere hoodies to look like a man of the people.

Coop Schools is here for our members, and we apologise to any of you concerned that this email is too overtly political. Nonetheless, we have to stand by our values, and the fact is that this government’s supposed levelling up agenda is removing any slim security the poorest in our society have, by making them poorer. Cooperatives believe in directly addressing equity, and this is most certainly not that. 

The challenge for the most vulnerable in our country continues to grow, and the challenge for schools does too. We’ve had conversations with a number of Heads this week who either kept or quickly reintroduced COVID protocols across their sites, having little faith in the ‘back to normal’ messaging, or experiencing their own autumn waves of infection. Unions are now calling for stricter mitigations to be back in place across the sector. 2.5% of  pupils were off school last week due to confirmed or suspected COVID infections, alongside an even larger percentage of secondary age pupils who are persistently absent.

In this febrile atmosphere, last week’s news of what to expect in the forthcoming Education White Paper was not well received. The possible return of Key Stage Three SATs, the removal of the national cap on teachers’ working hours, greater powers for Ofsted were three of the ‘treats’ shared. In his own conference speech, Nadim Zahawi rightly drew attention to the importance of literacy and numeracy, but we know that the funding for learning recovery is limited. The catch up tsar Sir Kevan Collins resigned in June after the government announced less than 10% of the funding Sir Kevan and his team identified as the minimum required to restore standards to pre-pandemic levels.

It’s a tough time to work in education, which is why it’s so remarkable that we have such brilliant and inspiring conversations with our members, and gain insights into what they are doing for the young people they serve. From new Cooperative Foundation Trusts coming to life, to Trusts working across a city to support schools facing challenges, to improvement plans that focus on the powers of collaboration and solidarity, rather than competition, the cooperative education sector, small but mighty, continues to be a beacon for best practice. This week, we’ve had conversations with leaders in Kent, Southampton, Lancashire, Birmingham, Derbyshire, and Surrey. All mention the challenges; all emphasise the importance of the work for their communities and young people.

At the end of last academic year, we spoke about Agency, Community, and Trust being the key themes for our work this year. New Trusts are emerging as they take agency and protect themselves from locally specific academisation threats. Concern for community is a cooperative principle. Our Cooperative Trusts answer to and represent their communities, and are focused on improving their specific worlds in concrete and meaningful ways. And the importance of trust – from and between governance to staff to students to partners to caregivers – is shaped by the values and principles we have all signed up to. 

We are proud that our sector continues to grow, and that in spite of everything, the work you do this academic year will be something to be proud of. Thank you.

Our vision for Coop MATs and Foundation Trusts

Policy by tweet – released prior to Gavin Williamson’s CST speech later the same day 

We are proud to have members from Cooperative Foundation Trusts and Cooperative Multi-Academy Trusts in the Cooperative Schools Network. We have brilliant Cooperative MATs in our family, who are focused on ethical leadership, values and principles, and the enrichment of their communities. They work in cooperation with other Trusts, not in competition.

At Coop Schools, we have been a little hesitant to respond to the agenda Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education appeared to lay out last month, for two reasons.

Reason One
: it strikes us as a sideshow from the main stage. It’s an attention grabbing headline, and interpreting it as anything else would be very prematureThe main stage has been the resilience of schools and their communities during a time of crisis, where a huge range of schools – LA maintained schools, Foundation Trusts, and Multi-Academy Trusts – have worked together for the benefit of their communities, no matter the challenges created by central government.

Reason Two: giving an attention grabbing headline too much notice, when it has limited evidence to support it, feeds it oxygen. Williamson’s vision seems more a reaction to the slowdown of academisation in the past year than a determined drive to step up this agenda.  The DfE latest documents page shows nothing new in terms of policy or initiatives on academisation since a sponsor listing release on 29th April. The DfE is making an additional, fairly modest sum available to support existing MAT group expansion, possibly in an attempt to re-energise their growth.

The speech needs placing in context: Williamson was talking to an audience of MAT Trustees and CEOs at the Confederation of School Trusts, an academy membership group representing their views on the national stage. In reality, limited conversion resource, resistance from all teacher unions, strong community resistance, successful alternative models, alongside ‘free market’ failings in the academy model (from CEO pay to over-extended, non-regional Trusts): all these factors present serious obstacles to Williamson taking this vision forward.

Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts said something we agree with: “A group of schools working together… can do lots of things that are harder for stand-alone schools to do.” Where we may differ is in the one-size-fits-all model for this collaboration, as Harry Kutty, Headteacher of Cantell School in Southampton pointed out.

Thanks Harry. Aspire Community Trust shows the value of partnerships in all it does.

We’re grateful to all our members for being part of our strong family of values driven, cooperative and collaborative schools and Trusts. Thank you.

April and the start of the summer term

It’s the summer term. With school community well-being in the front of our minds, we wish all our members a successful term, focused on the right things for their young people and communities. The Department for Education’s recent attention to behaviour hubs and discipline seems out of step with the national mood. We know many of our members are working to make sure all pupils and staff feel a sense of belonging and care back in school, and that compassion helps shape the learning young people experience, with due attention given to addressing inequalities and disadvantage.

At Coop Schools HQ, we look forward to signing you back up to the Cooperative School’s Network professional support, services and voice offer between now and May. Subscription invoices will be with you in the next couple of weeks, and please make sure your members are all aware of the benefits national membership offers them, and the cooperative dividends CSNET can bring to your schools and Trusts. We are always available to answer questions, and make sure our offer meets the needs of your communities.

Thank you for being part of the cooperative education movement; we are a stronger voice together.

Lee Phillips
National Director

Regional Shout Outs

North: I was delighted to become a Trustee of the newly formed Axia Learning Alliance in Lancashire, a Cooperative Foundation Trust of five primary schools. The Trust had its inaugural meeting yesterday (19th April), and is excited to be joining a larger family of cooperative Trusts through CSNET and the Schools Cooperative Society.  Axia is already clearly focused on making sure the Cooperative Trust is a motor for building fairness for young people: its initial work addresses pooling expertise on special educational needs, effective deployment of pupil premium resources, a focus on speech and language in early years, and making use of Forest Schools and partner provision to build the confidence and capacity of its young people. I left inspired, and you’ll be hearing more about Axia in another newsletter later this year. 

Central: we have new members in Birmingham after welcoming theBirmingham Special Schools Cooperative Trust to our family of schools. BSSCT formed in 2018 with six special schools in the west Midlands, ably supported by excellent partnerships. We are very keen to build collaborative communities across our special schools in each of our regions, from Devon to Kent, from Birmingham to Norfolk. Please be in touch if you’d like to be part of that network.

WestDartmoor Multi-Academy Trust, a Trust of fifteen schools in Devon, appointed a new CEO, Dan Morrow, in January of this year. The Trust is now committed to living up to its cooperative articles, and is re-energising its focus on values and principles in a series of conference days throughout May. The Conference is called ‘Reclaiming our Cooperative Identity’, and will focus on Cooperative Governance and Leadership, Fellowship, Pupil Experiences, and Community Cooperation. We will let you know more about Dartmoor MAT as their work progresses, and are delighted that a number of CSNET member schools and Trusts will be sharing their own cooperative experiences with the teams at Dartmoor for mutual benefit.

London and the South East: Regional Ambassador Alan Norley is convening the first meeting of the LASER Advisory Board on 30th April. The purpose of the Regional Advisory Board is to enable us to work more closely and effectively with member schools, feeding their intelligence into our national work, and making sure we give them the right support for their specific priorities. If you’re a member, keen to take part and are not sure if you heard from us, drop us a line and we will sort it out!

On this matter, we are working hard to rebuild the Regional Advisory Boards across all four regions of the Cooperative Schools Network. Regional Advisory Boards operate as steering and strategy teams for the work of Coop Schools in all four of its regions: shaping our work with schools and Trusts, building engagement and regional voice, and connecting each specific region to the National Advisory Board, the ‘engine’ of Coop Schools. London and the South East is the first to launch at the end of this month. We would particularly love to hear from members in the North, Central Region, and the West who would like to join us in shaping the regional direction for Coop Schools. We are keen to make sure our Boards are democratically representative and enable all our members to feel valued and to thrive. We welcome your participation.

Values Matter
At Coop Schools, we are proud to place our values at the centre of all we do. To that end, we will regularly highlight other organisations or actions that will interest our members, framed through the lens of our shared Cooperative Values, and what young people care about. 

Solidarity: ReKindle Manchester
In recent weeks, we’ve been in conversation with ReKindle Manchester, a proposed supplementary school for young people aged 13-16 in South Manchester. Built from the desire to reduce widening socio-economic gaps in Manchester, ReKindle plans to offer a curriculum and an approach that offers care, support, connection, hope, inspiration and aspiration, that pushes poor young people to know they can be more, but first establishes the solid foundations to catch them when they fall.ReKindle believes that this curriculum is best delivered in small, local educational centres, where communities support those at risk of negative outcomes with proven methods of educational support, designed to stimulate struggling learners and motivate parents, communities and local stakeholders to more efficiently support their young people. ReKindle’s key aim is to help their community of young people fall back in love with education.

ReKindle’s board is all aged between 18-24, majority black and minority ethnic, and most live within two miles of the proposed school. Connect to their Twitter feed here.

Equity: the Black Curriculum
At Coop Schools, we know we have more work to do to become fully inclusive, and address structural inequality in our society. We are putting in the work wherever we can.

Through March and April we’ve had some great discussions with the team at The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise that aims to enrich identity, achievement levels and social cohesion for young people, pursuing these aims through enhancing the impact of racial literacy provision, anti-racist practice and Black British History teaching within schools and local authorities across the UK. Their message is a positive one about the power of young people to bring about change.

They offer CPD training on racial literacy pedagogy and practice, curriculum consultation and audits, student workshops, and a National Ambassador Scheme.

The National Ambassador Scheme builds young peoples’ capacities to advocate and educate within their school community, empowering them and their communities. It strikes us as an effective support for building pupil member forum involvement in Cooperative Trusts.
For more information on the Black Curriculum’s work, contact them here.

Social Responsibility: Institute of Education Research into Extremism and Safety in Schools
The Centre for Teachers & Teaching Research at the Insititute of Education is conducting research funded by SINCE 9/11 on ‘Keeping Children Safe in Schools’, the results of which will be available in a report that will be published ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this September. The research will improve understanding of how schools support children and young people in resisting extremist views. It will also be used to inform SINCE 9/11’s work in supporting teachers in the classroom by creating the resources they want and need to tackle radicalisation and extremism.

The Centre would like to offer our members the opportunity to share their experiences, to improve understanding of how schools in England are engaging with curriculum expectations related to addressing extremism of all kinds.

The team have a live survey which is open to all teachers in England both in Primary and Secondary schools:

It should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.

The research team is very sensitive to the potentially harmful stereotypes and simplistic assumptions that some aspects of the UK’s Prevent duty may have enabled, and want to make sure all voices and communities are effectively represented in their research. To that end, the Centre would welcome schools who are available to participate in survey work and interviews. If you could make time to take part, please contact Dr Becky Taylor here

Springing back to school

花見 or Hanami at New Longton Primary School, Lancashire

Our thoughts are with pupils, staff and their communities, who are all readying themselves for the week to come. The cooperative education community has worked harder than ever since March 2020 to do the best for all the young people it serves: we know how our members have gone above and beyond in their commitment to equity and caring for others. School staff are on the front line of social justice in our pandemic world. Thank you.

Schools are community assets
I had the pleasure of being in a school last week, and was reminded of how much we use the word ‘school’ as a simplistic figure of speech. The school I visited, while it had all its staff and a fifth of its children still in it, held a sense of expectation and quietness. Because, when we say schools, we actually mean all the people these buildings connect: the pupils, their families and communities, and the vital staff, from cleaners to teachers, who make them work so well. Schools are their network of relationships and their lifeblood is the people in them. And schools have extended their networks in ways none of us could have foreseen.

This last year has shown what assets schools are, in enabling home learning and in-class learning (often at the same time), providing equipment for children at home, sorting out broadband supply, managing food provision, COVID testing, financial support. Some of you reading this are those staff who have had little time off since March 2020, as you have responded in a considered way to every new missive from the Department for Education, and every sudden change and turn. All the while, you have held your young people at the centre of all you do. 

Schools are the evidence base
As I write this, the Secretary of State for Education is considering alternative options for schools – five term school years, shorter summers, ‘catch up’ sessions in longer school days. He indicates that the government will always be ‘evidence-based’ in its decision-making, as though evidence is not subject to interpretation. Early last week, he stated “evidence-backed, traditional teacher-led lessons with children seated facing the expert at the front of the class are powerful tools for enabling a structured learning environment where everyone flourishes.”

Perhaps some evidence points this way, if we are defining learning in terms of a narrow knowledge based curriculum, or the early development of reading skills. However, classroom staff play much wider roles than as gatekeepers of subject expertise – they are facilitators, coaches, mediators, instigators, creators, instructors, enthusiasts, and story shapers. This is narrow, selective evidence, based on a particular model of what learning is for.

Our young people are the most important evidence base for understanding what learning is for, and for charting the course of this coming year: it is their resilience in lockdown, how they have learned remotely, and their voice we should learn from first. As cooperative schools, we should be ready to hear and learn from our children and young people, and not underestimate their capacity for recovery and regeneration, in spite of the strains they have experienced during a year of turmoil.

Schools create growth
John Draper, Regional Ambassador for the West Region, and Headteacher at Swaythling Primary School, told me last week that his school’s ambition from 8th March was to give children ‘purpose, belonging, fun, and sanctuary’. 

Communities, pupils and staff at cooperative schools have the capacity to shift the narrative about the return to school. The focus on a ‘lost generation’ and filling the gaps through catch up is self-defeating, with the potential to end up like Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox – the journey never being completed.

Instead, we are thinking with our schools about what education should be for, and how we best serve our communities in getting the learning right for our young people. How do we build a rich curriculum that is engaging and challenging, that builds inventiveness, creativity, and imagination? How do we secure the resilience of our young people, and promote their well-being? How do we integrate our own new technological skills into the classroom? How do we really hear and listen to our young people, so that they are democratic partners in school life, who enable us to be more attentive to equity and equality? How do we play our part in building back fairer, and reducing inequality?

The power of our cooperative network lies in the ability to learning from each other and share experiences. We want to hear from you, share examples here of what our member schools are doing, and support you with your priorities and concerns. If you have a story to tell, or advice to share, or some thoughts to work through, we want to know!

Lee Phillips
National Director

Sunday, 7th March 2021

National Conference: looking back, facing forwards

“We owe you a huge debt of thanks.” Kate Green MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

What a year 2020 was, and we were fortunate on Monday 1st February to have a deep focus on the central learning and challenges of the year just gone, and how we head into the rest of 2021 as educators and cooperators. 

We started proceedings with the Shadow Secretary State for Education, Kate Green. In a wide ranging interview with Jon O’Connor, Chair of Coop Schools, Kate talked about the the role of education in our world, the government and the (lack of) trust it has placed in schools, and the knowledge and skills young people need for their 21st century lives. At Coop Schools, we particularly welcomed her ambition to build on pandemic-focused community activism and the increased value and trust placed by wider society in school staff and teachers.

On Gavin Williamson, Kate declared, ‘I don’t see him as the man who understands the transformative power of education, and the transformative demands we are placing on our education system to rebuild.’ She stated that elected politicians have an obligation ‘to stand with you, invest in you, to recognise and celebrate your professionalism and achievements.’

It was inspiring stuff, and this was shaped up further in the discussion panel with Anna Birley, Policy Officer of the Cooperative Party, James Pope from HeadsUp and Whole Education, and Brian Lightman, now an educational consultant and formerly General Secretary of ASCL. This panel also looked to the challenges of last year, but at the same time had their eyes firmly focused on the future. Schools and Trusts were challenged to hold their ground on what they believe is right for their young people and communities, focus on well-being and care, and build support across networks, through organisations like our own.

Our conference continues on our YouTube channel, with video of the conference as well as other exclusive content. 

Two of our Youtube highlights:

A conversation with Harry Kutty, Chair of the Aspire Cooperative Trust in Southampton and Head Teacher of Cantell School. In the video, Harry address how a school/university partnership with powerful insight and strong values led to a innovative and radical approach to Covid management for schools in Southampton – with interest now reaching across the region into other local authorities.

Vic Goddard, co-principal of Passmores Academy in Harlow, shares his thoughts on his own history, first teaching posts and coming right up to date with a frank discussion of the Challenges of Covid.

You can follow Anna Birley on Twitter and find out more about the Cooperative Party here. James Pope is also on Twitter, and more about HeadsUp here. Brian Lightman’s Twitter account is also somewhere to keep an eye on. Click on their names here to find out more about Harry Kutty’s and Vic Goddard’s cooperative schools.

LGBT+ History Month

The Cooperative Schools Network intentionally values the rich diversity of our members and their communities. Our diversity is our strength. We are therefore proud to support LGBT+ History Month.

We are inspired by the previously unheard voices of the past, the rich contributions LGBT+ people have made to their communities and countries, and the struggles they have overcome to live and love freely. And we stand in solidarity with so many LGBT+ people who face challenges around the world, even as we celebrate what has been achieved closer to home.

For resources to help your Trust and school, look no further than the LGBT+ History Month website. The Voices and Visibility wall chart is a great place to start.

We would love to find out what any of our member Trusts, schools, and communities are doing to celebrate LGBT+ History Month. Please let us know so we can share it more widely! 

A cooperative journey 2010-20

My personal cooperative journey has been a ten-year road trip towards the realisation of a shared vision. The first milestone on my journey was as a delegate to the Schools Cooperative Society Conference, back in 2010.

My own school, Foundry Lane Primary School (in Southampton) was aiming to be one of the new schools helping to achieve the goal of 130 coop schools by the end of the year.

We were genuinely enthused by SCS’s vision to provide support for Coop Schools realising the cooperative values, providing mutual support, and negotiating for favourable services and resources.

For a plethora of reasons this vision was not fully realised until 2019.

In 2011. a group of cooperative schools in the London and South East Region (LASER for short) had pioneered the idea of a regional network. Working together with colleagues in other parts of the country, bit by bit this grew into a template for national networking under the banner of Cooperative Schools Network (CSNet).

The vision and the goals for the group were focused on the simple triple mantra of providing Professional Support, Professional Services and Professional Voice.

Gradually, the coop family of schools grew, partly with my professional support as a regional adviser supporting the development of foundation trusts. As part of a small team led by Jon O’Connor, the mantra was put slowly into practice.

In 2019 SCS recognised the value of the CSNet blueprint, rolling it out nationally as a sustainable support network for the country, divided into four new regions.

From the initial glimmer of hope of 2010,  the realisation has come ten years later in 2020. Despite the challenging times, Coop Schools now have a bright future with the CSNet model.

Andy Withers

Former Head Teacher & CSNET regional adviser


It’s not over yet. The school year, I mean – not the virus.

It sounds like the virus could be around for some time, part of the atmosphere we share, the sense of crisis in the world.

It’s brought out the full spectrum of symptoms of dysfunction in society: antisocial behaviour soared fourfold even before the easing of restrictions in our own backyard.

The self-important have strutted and tutted about all manner of things without checking facts, as usual, self-absorbed and oblivious to the impact on others and the waste of energy all round. The moral high horse has cantered around like a wild stallion let loose. Social media swells like organ bellows, blaring at highly unsociable levels and at all hours of the day. Political performances have become parodies of themselves, issuing seriously intended soundbites possessing little real sense or meaning. Garbled often seems the lingua franca for policy communication.

The Kraken Wakes, the1953 novel by John Wyndham, is worth a fresh read. It plays out like a metaphor for the darkly dysfunctional days we are living – complete with a prophetic portrayal of fearful attack by an unseen enemy, international blame games, climate change, science and government interplay, fearful refugee movement and global economic shockwaves.

What has been equally striking is the quiet, unrelentingly positive activism: our wonderful NHS colleagues just doing the job they trained for, showing their true vocation and commitment over and above – as has the education service.

Communities have come together in so many ways, with the vulnerable protected from the failure of government to provide by groups offering food, care and support. It speaks volumes of weaknesses in our social infrastructure that this has been necessary and murmurs distinctly if you listen carefully that perhaps the pursuit of money, power and egotism are anachronistic in this situation, if they were ever to be admired before.

It has indeed been the best of times and the worst of times.

If it’s been bad for all of us grown ups – and it has truly been a tough year – then it’s not yet become clear how bad it is for children and young people.

Many of our colleagues have reported enjoying the relief of some return to normality, provided under difficult circumstances with considerable effort all round. One head teacher mentioned the sheer joy of seeing small people skipping down the pavement on their way to school, after endless weeks of empty streets in the morning. More and more children are back in the right place and happy to resume education as a cornerstone of their interrupted childhood.

Schools have quite rightly made decisions locally, based on the “art of the possible” – almost despite the sound and fury emanating from No.10 and the DfE – producing guidance marked ‘Distant from Everyone’ in reality.

Being at home in 2020 has less to offer childhood, it sometimes seems: even without the oddity of amateur education at the kitchen table, which has had the unexpected side-effect of increasing respect for the teaching profession.

More and more, we expect non-adults to adapt to adult ways, with less and less time for personal involvement in play, stories, silliness and so on.

During the lockdown, this has been even worse for many children: adult stress and tensions have escalated. The impact on our own friends and family has not been trivial, with irritation bubbling up unexpectedly, the illness itself visiting our doors and a quick chat glossing over the reality of redundancies kicking in from the first weeks.

So, none of us is under any illusion that next year is going to get any easier. Especially if we all have to look in the same direction…. sometimes it’s better to avert your gaze.

Economic hardship and instances of domestic violence have soared: children have had no respite from bearing witness to adult insecurity, abuse of power, fear and pain right there before their eyes.

That’s all going to show up in September, along with new kids on the block – we’ll all be blinking nervously until they realise one day at a time that they are back in safe hands at their new school.

It’s pretty obvious to say that schools will struggle to cope with insufficient recognition of these issues, insufficient funding, insufficient support and guidance: there’s nothing new here, except the toll it has taken on everyone. We will all indeed struggle as a public service to overcome everything which life, society, government policy and the entire galaxy throws our way.

And no doubt it will all work out in the end. Leave it be for now. Well done you and you and you for what you have done this year.

It’s been fantastic to work with you this year and I wish you all the most well-deserved rest from the fray.

A rest is as good as a cure.


We welcome new members who support the cooperative values and work in the education sector. You can join as an individual or as a school or learning centre – and we would welcome you to the family….

The International Cooperative Values and Principles matter to us – not surprisingly. What also matters is how these are turned into good practice for learning communities – we believe we should be “Good with Schools”

To browse the International Cooperative Alliance website which provides a really good explanation of co-operative identity, please click here…

What’s next: asteroids?

As the latest official blog from the DfE seems to suggest that there has been a minor misunderstanding…. we take a look forward to see what is coming up in the new school year.

It is either pretty brave or pretty foolish to try and do so with any morsel of management planning capacity remaining, as we hurtle, shell-shocked and exhausted, to the end of what can fairly be described as the year from hell.

Locusts really did descend on the sub-Saharan African plains, a new and powerful pestilence called CoVid19 really did visit our communities – it was not just a nightmare.

More to follow shortly!