I recently attended the ICA Research Conference in Croatia along with fellow early-career researchers Sally Hartley and Debbie Ralls. Our panel on education and innovation, which was very well received amongst the delegates, was chaired by Linda Shaw of Cooperative College UK.
Our work had the central theme of education and was complementary and diverse in content, allowing a wide-perspective on the discussion of education in cooperative contexts. Debbie Ralls (University of Manchester) is in the early stages of a PhD, which is exploring the practice of engagement in a newly established cooperative school. Dr Sally Hartley (The Open University) has recently completed a PhD on youth cooperatives in Africa, where she explored the multiple informal learning opportunities that these created.
My paper was an outline of my PhD, which is exploring the motivations of school leaders in England as they embark their cooperative journey. I told the emerging story of cooperative schools in England, which is one of rapid growth and optimism. I explored some of the contextual factors that have created the conditions for this growth and, by drawing on early evidence gathered in a small pilot study, presented some tensions and possibilities for the model.
Our panel was very enthusiastically received with conversation and discussion extending well beyond the session. There is particular interest in how cooperatives can work to develop the ‘cooperative character’ and thereby develop opportunities for wider social change.
The conference was particularly helpful to me as I think about my own project and situate it in the wider international and historical context of the co-operative movement. There is a strong international interest in the emergence of these schools in England – I became involved in several critical conversations and made some positive connections to take forward.Thank you to the Rochdale Pioneers Memorial Fund for supporting this work.