The Schools Cooperative Society (SCS)

Founded in 2009 as a national body for the co-operative education sector, SCS co-ordinates, supports and gives voice to hundreds of Co-operative learning communities. 

SCS works alongside CSNET, which manages the dedicated network of four regional groupings working for and with cooperative schools. The SCS/CSNET relationship is a close one, working through a joint National Advisory Board, as well as having member-appointed Director/Trustees.

We work closely with many co-operative partners, including Coops UK – providing support for members in each region and a national approach.

What defines a cooperative?

The International Co-operative movement has operated for over 160 years across a large number of fields, from finance to farming and retail. 

All cooperatives work to a shared set of values and principles, set out by the International Cooperative Alliance. Click here to read more about these.

Co-operative education has been embedded in local communities for centuries: those with knowledge or skills would share these with those who lacked them. Schools were established under various sponsors – local philanthropists, parish councils, self-help groups and others.In the last 30 years, there has been a true renaissance in the life of co-operative education, resulting in a significant movement across the country.

A quiet revolution in schools

Over the last fifteen years, a quiet revolution in the way schools can operate has allowed the creation of a cooperative education sector within the UK.  

Just as the co-operative way of running a business or association presents an alternative to the more traditional ‘plc’ approach, Co-operative Schools offer an alternative and ethical model for schools by putting the learning community at the centre of a strategic body overseeing the work of education development. A brief description of the two main versions (Cooperative Foundation and Cooperative Academy) is shown below.

If you are considering the possibility of establishing or joining a cooperative educaiton partnership, please contact CSNET head office. We can provide detailed advice on cooperative education structures, together with some introductions to our members who have experience of these.


In 2007 a small group of head teachers and education professionals, working with the Cooperative College developed a model in which co-operative ideals were built into school governance for the first time:  the Co-operative Foundation Trust Model used by hundreds of schools today.

A Co-operative Foundation Trust model involves:-

  • affirming a commitment to Co-operative Values and Principles
  • a consultation with the learning community to set out principles and purpose
  • ensuring that stakeholders such as parents, staff, learners and members of the local community have a genuine ‘say’ in the affairs of the organisation.
  • establishing a legal foundation or Trust
  • working as a collective to safeguard the values and principles, to deliver collective responsibility for school improvement and mutual support

In a changing education landscape,  the Co-operative Foundation Trust model can help sustain partnerships with a strong shared vision and values.


Co-operative Academies and Multi Academy Trusts have a distinctive character as a DfE recognised variation to other Academy models.

The Cooperative values and principles are embedded into the Articles and incorporate a clear accountability to the local learning community.

Any school considering becoming a Co-operative Academy should ensure that its values are closely aligned with that of the movement and the school should be certain that it can uphold these values at all times.

We would also advise careful reflection in respect of current education policy and the fact that academy conversion is not reversible, meaning that schools can sometimes be subject to further management change if and when difficulties occur.