In the USA, 4th July is Independence Day; this year in Manchester, at the top of the 24-storey CIS Tower, it was the opportunity for educators to discuss how shared cooperative values could set schools and communities free from marketization and the top-down control of OFSTED.
Alongside academics were teachers, Union representatives and students from Reddish Vale Technology College, a cooperative school. Professor Michael Apple, a tireless campaigner for democratic schools, gave a passionate and funny keynote speech asking for all who believe in community based democracy and inclusive values to work together to respond to constant press-releases by the media, politicians and think-tanks making out schools to be failing and in need of market-led solutions. Mervyn Wilson, head of the Co-operative College, set out the rapid rise of co-operative schools – now numbering 500 and on course for 1000 by the end of next year – as proof of communities’ determination to keep their schools owned and controlled by them, and to support each other in developing values-based approaches to school improvement. The keynotes can be viewed online here
I attended a workshop led by Bernadette Hunter, Head of the William Shrewesbury Primary School and the Burton Cooperative Learning Trust, on how eight local schools were helping each other to improve rather than competing for students. She also related how when one school in the Trust failed an OFSTED inspection, the other schools in the group successfully applied to support its improvement – rather than have it forced into an academy chain. This model of schools joining together to protect each other from marketization and OFSTED, and offering a cooperative, community-based alternative, was inspiring.
Bernadette is also head of the NAHT this year; we will be exploring how the Index for Inclusion may be of use in helping heads to develop an alternative framework of school evaluation based on peer support and critical friendship.
I also went to a workshop by Learn to Lead – an organisation supporting the development of student voice in schools – over 100 so far. They gave wonderful examples of how, by training students to engage in dialogue and organise meetings, they have brought about substantial change in schools’ policies and culture towards greater respect for students and a sense of working with staff as equals in a common cause.
The Conference lead to many useful connections and alliances – it was also a timely reminder of just how many people and organisations share similar visions for the future of education.
More reflections on the conference can be found here