College goes independent to inspire a new generation

The Co-operative College is using co-operative history and heritage to inspire a new generation of co-operators, delegates heard at its annual meeting. One of the main areas of work...

The Co-operative College is using co-operative history and heritage to inspire a new generation of co-operators, delegates heard at its annual meeting.

One of the main areas of work of the college, which specialises in studying and researching the co-operative movement, has been learning and development.

“We’re learning to use our legacy, our history, our heritage to inspire a new generation of co-operation,” said principal Mervyn Wilson.

The college has developing a series of learning and educational programmes, he added, which include short animations which illustrate how co-op heritage can be used to motivate people.

Over the past year, the college has offered series of educational programmes for the co-operative sector, ranging from modern apprenticeships to masters-level programmes, developed in partnership with a number of universities.

Throughout 2014, the college has continued to develop learning resources, such as the “5th principle Toolkit”, which comprises eight learning activity and resource packs. These are linked to a series of short animated films covering the same topics: what is a co-operative, good governance, values and principles, monitoring co-operative performance, member engagement and other essential aspects of the co-operative business model.

The college is also managing the National Co-operative Archive and Rochdale Pioneers Museum. Last year, they created online resources through the Rochdale project with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to increase accessibility of materials held by the National Co-operative Archive. The resources are available at

“We regard our heritage as a clear part of our DNA,” said Mr Wilson.

The college is also undergoing a change to its governance structure. It is currently governed by a board of directors which reports to the board of directors of Co-operatives UK, the trustee of the Co-operative College. After a review, Co-operatives UK, the trustees and the college’s board decided the college will become a co-operative, independent from Co-operatives UK.

Nick Matthews, chair of Co-operatives UK, said it was “time to let the college grow independently as an independent entity”, but said his organisation would continue to work with the college.

Keynote speaker at the meeting was Patrick Roach of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK. He said: “We want to see schools in their communities serving the name of their communities, and the nation as well. It isn’t an easy objective to accomplish, but our view is that co-op schools are in a far better place to achieve that principle.”

He added: “We want co-op schools to be the better way of doing education. We want to see more co-operation in schools.

“The quality of teachers can’t be realised if teacher’s expertise isn’t being valued and respected. Today, according to most indicators, teachers feel demoralised, feel that they are not being respected and listened to, despite the government’s commitment to decentralisation.”

He added that the argument should not be whether more co-operative schools were needed, but rather how to deepen co-operation in practice in schools and make sure that the practice of co-operation is stronger and deeper in co-operative schools.

“They need to show that they offer better solutions for pupils, parents and communities. We need to deepen our commitment to education at the heart of our community.”

Mr Roach also called for  a closer relationship between co-op schools and trade unions. NASUWT was the first teachers union to engage in a formal agreement with the Co-operative College.

In his speech, Mr Wilson had said the movement needed to spread the co-operative message and that there was an “enormous potential” in working with trade unions.

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