Co-operative schools are characterised by the co-operative values and principles which underpin the practice of all co-operative organisations. In England and Wales, around 850 schools currently use co-operative values to support the curriculum design, pedagogy and structures for accountability and democracy.
Foundation schools: Co-operative trustsEdit
Co-operative trusts were made possible under the 2006 Education and Inspections Act, introduced by the then Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls MP. The 2006 Act provided two main aspects of legislation, which could be characterised as 'carrot and stick' in their purpose. The latter embraced a series of powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene in underperforming schools, classified at the time as those with the lowest grades of Ofsted Inspection outcomes. These powers are set to be extended considerably through the introduction of the 2015 Education and Adoption Act.
The more positive aspects were reflected in a number of provisions and related incentives for local authorities to promote education partnership, including the basis for a new model of foundation trust. The new model would have similar characteristics and powers to those of the faith-based foundations, but allow education partnerships to establish foundations with a secular faith-neutral ethos. At least one community category of school must 'acquire' the foundation and change category to foundation, for the trust to be established in law - in the case of co-operative trusts, with a distinctive set of articles registered at Companies House on incorporation.
Using these powers, a pioneer model of a foundation trust based on co-operative values was used for the first time in 2007 by Reddish Vale High School, Stockport. Within a year, a further 25 schools adopted the model as one offering strong values and extensive engagement of all stakeholders within the learning community. The growth of the sector or movement has embraced all phases and has seen particular interest from schools offering special educational provision. 
The role of a co-operative trustEdit
The trust provides powers for the land and assets to be held by the foundation on behalf of the learning community or schools, alongside a wide range of legal opportunities to employ staff, manage shared projects, acquire and use further accommodation or facilities. What is notable about the co-operative model is that the powers of the existing governing body (or bodies) are retained - as the supervising and accountable body for school performance, the budget and resourcing decisions for each of the schools within the trust. The trust represents a separate legal entity for strategic shared objectives, which is resourced appropriately by the schools and other partners for the agreed priorities and programmes of joint working. Partnerships within such trusts often include representation at Board level of local employers, higher education and the local authority - who generally see these as a positive adjunct to school improvement work.
State-funded education is experiencing considerable change, as is the case in other services for England and Wales. The Coalition government, elected in 2010, rapidly passed new legislation in the form of the Academies Act 2010 to enable a considerable growth in 'independent state sector' schools - namely academies. These operate under a direct contractual arrangement and funding agreement with the Department for Education - with the local authority relinquishing powers of supervision or intervention. Furthermore, provisions were enacted which meant that all newly established schools would from this point forward be independent of the local authority.
In response, the co-operative education movement worked with the DfE to formulate a variant of the standard Academy Articles, the legal constitution, to embrace key elements of co-operative values and principles. In particular, these identify the significance of the international values, the importance of engagement with the constituent members of the learning community and a strong sense of accountability to that community. These elements distinguish co-operative academies, which represent a minority of the overall movement, but include significant and high-profile leadership teams who have chosen to use the values-based organisation to promote community education.
National and regional networksEdit
As the numbers of co-operative schools and partnerships increased, the need for a national body to provide a voice for the movement was increasingly clear. In 2009, the Schools Co-operative Society was established to fulfil that function, with a membership system and representatives on a national board reflecting the regions. Co-operative trusts are, by definition, autonomous however and in many areas of the country imaginative and successful work has been in evidence to execute successful work in training, procurement and other activities on behalf of the schools in a particular learning community. In turn, some areas which were early adopters of the model - such as Cornwall, where a majority of the schools became part of an education co-operative over a period of time - have formed clusters and networks where this is appropriate to support greater cohesion and capacity. This of course reflects one of the tenets of co-operatives: co-operation between co-operatives.
Regions, such as Yorkshire and Humber, the South West, London/SE (known as LASER) have emerged to provide cohesion and to support communications across and between regions. The latest development, in which regions are now increasingly co-operating with each other, supported through SCS has also seen a resurgence of interest in collaboration, stimulated both by a period of declining resources and by a proactive and positive response to the reality of diminishing powers and support at local authority level since 2010. An example of cross-region collaboration can be found in the links forged between LASER and the Eastern Region in 2015, using the vehicle of the Co-operative Schools Network (CSNET) to share communications, administration and intellectual property freely and co-operatively with each other.
- Birch, Simon (26 July 2012). "Co-op schools: Is the future of education co-operation?". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
- "Co-operative Academies and Multi Academy Trusts - Schools Co-operative Society". Schools Co-operative Society. Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
- "Schools Co-operative Society | Home". Schools Co-operative Society. Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
- "Co-operative Schools Network | Home". Co-operative Schools Network. Retrieved 3 January 2018.