CO-OPERATIVE Action has committed its biggest ever funding ? to finance a programme of teaching material that will put co-operation firmly on the nation's education curriculum.
The three-year project will receive a £ 289,000 grant – and the first to benefit will be the recently announced schools which are being sponsored by the Co-operative Group in their bids to become the country's first co-operative-sponsored specialist schools.
Altogether, it adds up to an investment of over half a million pounds to promote co-operative values and principles to local schools and their communities.
`For the first time we are aiming to put our co-operative alternative into the school curriculum and introduce young people to the value of co-operative, mutual and social enterprise,` says Stephen Youd-Thomas of Co-operative Action.
`Support for education has been fundamental to our ideals since the time of the Rochdale Pioneers, but this is, by far, the biggest project in recent years to explain what we stand for as co-operators.
`It will promote our values – including equality and democracy, and principles, such as self help, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others – to a new generation of young people and teaching staff.`
The emerging network of co-operative business schools will be at the core of research and development.
The resulting teaching and learning programmes will `totally change the perception of co-operation among students and educationalists alike,` says Mervyn Wilson, Principal and Chief Executive of the Co-operative College which will develop the material with particular emphasis on the emerging 14 to 19 year-old vocational curriculum.
A big emphasis will be placed on using the global co-operative movement and co-operative learning methods across a curriculum that will include co-operative and mutual business awareness, ethical trading,
Fair Trade and responsible retailing, as well as financial literacy, sustainable rural and community regeneration, social inclusion, care for the environment and active citizenship.
`Most curriculum business support for schools has come, in the past, from the private sector,` says Mr Wilson. `However we are confident that teachers will welcome the opportunity to present an alternative – using proven, accessible and exciting materials.
`If the Co-operative Movement is to survive and flourish it needs to inspire young people through its values, actions, diversity and global application. This is a unique opportunity to do this and to broaden the appeal of co-operation to a new generation.`
The role of the co-operative sector in the Government's drive for educational reform has been welcomed by Ministers. Last year Education and Skills Secretary Charles Clarke was involved in the House of Commons launch of the Co-operative College paper ?Co-operation and Learning'.
The Co-operative Group's current sponsorship of eight schools which are bidding for specialist business and enterprise status was welcomed by Mr Clarke, who commented: `The Co-operative sector has an excellent track record of combining enterprise with social responsibility and these are values that we need to emphasise throughout our education system.`
The DfES will be among several organisations to become involved in the curriculum project, along with the Specialist Schools Trust and the sector's think-tank Mutuo.
Added Mr Youd-Thomas: `This project is the best opportunity, for decades, to take co-operation out of the classroom history lessons and teach it as a viable, modern business and socially responsible option.`