Creating Co-operative Capital: Supporting the next generation of co-operators

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On the 11th of March, CETS is hosting an event which will bring together some of the many young people engaged in co-operative activity in Scottish education to discuss the idea of a ‘Co-operative Youth Network’. Fittingly, this event will be held in New Lanark where Robert Owen put into practice his pioneering ideas for a more co-operative society. Pupils from some of the schools in Scotland who are embracing co-operative teaching and learning (including some who are completing SQA qualifications in Co-operative Studies), as well as co-operative ways of working, will join together to participate in a series of participative and interesting activities. Attendees will also have an opportunity to undertake a guided tour of New Lanark.

The proceedings from this event will be communicated through this blog in the weeks following the event. We’re really looking forward to hearing what co-operation means to young people and it can be extended to others throughout Scotland.

The full package: CETS newest resource aimed at higher education

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The culmination of  a two-year collaborative project with the University of Aberdeen, today CETS launched its newest resource, its first foray into higher education: Democratic Enterprise: Ethical business for the 21st century.Here’s the description of the text:

The United Nations has declared 2012 to be the International Year of Co-operatives in recognition of the impact that co-operative enterprise has on more than three billion people across the globe. Co-operatives contribute to national and local economies in virtually every country by championing an ethical approach to business underpinned by internationally agreed values and principles. Yet despite the wide-ranging successes of co-operatives, in financial terms as well as in the development of sustainable communities, the study of these democratic forms of enterprise remains surprisingly absent from the curricula of most university business schools around the world.

Designed primarily for undergraduate students, Democratic Enterprise provides an introductory-level analysis of democratic models of enterprise, namely cooperatives and employee-owned businesses. A supplement to any course that deals with these topics, it also stands alone as a template for academics who wish to incorporate material on democratic models of enterprise into courses relating to economics, business studies, sustainable development, enterprise, and organisational theory and behaviour.

The book is free to download and can be accessed here:

With our new primary resource and the approval of SQA qualifications in Co-operative Studies, we have provided a pathway or educational journey for students interested in co-operatives, one that starts in the Curriculum for Excellence and culminates in higher education.

Updated Summer Update

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Author: Hugh

Traditionally it is a quiet time for us here at CETS but that hasn’t stopped me taking the easy option of combining my turn to blog with a newsletter for general consumption. 


Young Co-operative Enterprise

 There are two major strands of our efforts in this field which will take major strides forward when the Scottish schools return in August.

ASDAN Awards through Co-operative Studies 

Supported by the Co-operative Group Scottish Values and Principles Committee, we will be working with several secondary schools (Loudoun Academy, Alva Academy, Jedburgh Grammar, Broxburn Academy, Armadale Academy, Whitburn Academy and All Saints Secondary) to ensure that nearly 200 Scottish pupils will achieve ASDAN Enterprise and/or COPE accreditation through Co-operative Studies.  This will be a major advance in our primary objective of imbedding co-operative values and principles into the Scottish education system.

Young Co-operatives

We have often highlighted the excellent work done by longstanding Young Co-ops at Hillpark and Stonelaw and we are hoping to see a new wave as we engage with Govan High, Hillhead Secondary and Whitehills Primary (Forfar) to develop their co-operative business models.

We also had a highly successful 2 day Co-operative Enterprise Awareness Session at St Paul’s Dundee where 40 pupils investigated the potential for creating Young Co-ops.  This event was run in conjunction with Dynamix, the Bristol based worker co-op.

SQA Qualifications

As stated above, our main objective is to imbed co-operative values and principles and the co-operative model of enterprise into the Scottish education system.  The ongoing implementation of Curriculum for Excellence is starting to offer opportunities in this field.  We instigated discussions with the SQA over a year ago and it now seems that our message is getting through, that co-operatives as a context for learning are an effective way to achieve the outcomes laid down with Curriculum for Excellence. 

The SQA have themselves proposed the creation of an award in Fair Trade/Ethical trading which will sit nicely alongside our proposed award in Co-operative Studies, again supported by CG Scottish Membership V & P.  We are also awaiting a response from the Education Minister on his proposal for a new award in Scottish Studies and our suggestion that Co-operative Studies should be an integral part of any such award.

Hopscotch Theatre

Hopscotch has been involved in some excellent pieces of drama aimed at raising awareness amongst young people about the democratic system and trade justice.  We are currently working with them to take to our ASDAN schools (as above) a drama workshop which will introduce them to the concept of democratically owned and controlled businesses.

Summer Events

Working with CG Membership we have agreed to sponsor (through the Cammanachd Association) the supply of three “First Shinty” kits for use in primary and secondary schools throughout the City of Aberdeen.  The kits will be handed over at half time in the Aberdein Considine Sutherland Cup Final at Aberdeen University’s King’s Fields on Saturday 30th July 2011.

Again, we will be hosting a short workshop on co-ops at the Belladrum Festival, alongside the “Verb Garden” when the Co-operative Group Scotland & NI Board will be joining the festivities.

Scotmid are hosting an Enterprising Practitioners event in August at Hillwood House.  This group of schools enterprise development officers came together under Determined to Succeed but not have to look at those co-operative virtues of self help and self sufficiency if they are to continue functioning.  The Scotmid session will be used to explore a co-operative model as well as further progressing their knowledge and understanding of co-operative enterprise.

They will also be able to hear how co-operative business engagement is enabling pupils at Craigmount High to work towards Intermediate Retailing Awards with support from Stevenson College, Scotmid and CETS.

Learning and Teaching Resources   

In our 2009/11 funding application to CG Social Goals, we forecast we would get over 1500 of our various resource packs into 750 schools.  With over 6 months still to run, we have surpassed those targets by at least 10%.

We are now working on a new “Co-operative Food Chain” resource with financial and technical support from SAOS.  There are many existing resources out there and it has been noted that the majority of co-operative activity in the UK still centres on food in some shape or form.

 This will be an online option which highlights the co-operative option at every stage of the cycle – food production, food retail and distribution and through to food waste and re-cycling/renewable energy.  This resource will be launched early in the next school year.

Year of the Co-operative 2012

 The aforementioned support from CG Scottish Values & Principles is intended to culminate with the launch of the new SQA Awards and the graduation of the 200 ASDAN Young Co-operators.  It will obviously be our intention to showcase these at a major event in 2012.  Once we are clear of the overall Scottish programme of events we will announce more detail.  It would be our intention to aim for June 2012.

Some of you might have noticed that we are engaging with schools (Govan and Loudoun, including Fenwick Primary) which can lay claim to pre-Rochdale co-ops within their catchment areas.  We have also approached schools in Brechin (1832) and Lennoxtown (1812) to see if we can develop a co-operative co-op history project, highlighting the Scottish contribution to the global phenomenon that is the International Co-operative Economy being celebrated by the UN. (A point we made in our communication to the Scottish Education Minister).  Watch this space!

Higher Education

 We are now at the halfway point in our Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Aberdeen and the first learning and teaching resources should be available for the new university academic year.  This work has resulted in a grouping of co-operative academics working together and after an initial CETS presentation to the UK Society for Co-operative Studies Annual Conference 2010, there was a fringe meeting at Congress to progress the idea of a Co-operative University and Business School.

The Mondragon co-ops in the Basque Country already have their own university and CETS, with support from CDS, will be sending 3 students from the Scottish Agricultural College over on a study tour in early October.  The students won the CETS/CDS essay competition with a business plan for a farm forestry co-op.

Summer Update

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Author: Diarmuid

Firstly, a happy summer (if you can call it that with all the rain – not enjoying my second Scottish summer weather wise!) to everyone. Traditionally it is a quiet time for us here at CETS as most of our work involves teachers and students who enjoy the fruits of a number of weeks off around this time. We do like to keep busy however, so I will provide a quick update regarding the status of one of our projects.

Democratic Enterprise
Thanks to support from Co-operative Development Scotland and the Scottish Government, CETS has been working in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen on an exciting project developing educational resources for higher education. Democratic Enterprise will be released in late September and will cover co-operative and employee-ownership topics in-depth, including Ownership, Governance, Participation, as well as historical and legal perspectives. The textbook will be accompanied by an online learning environment, containing additional case studies and resources, as well as advice for academics on how to incorporate the material into a course. Further details on the resource and the project as a whole can be found at

Despite the majority of our work being aimed at school level, we feel that this resource will be an important component in the education of our young people. It may be a dream but we hope that someday a child will learn about co-operatives and other forms of democratic enterprises from the moment they enter Scottish education to the day they leave. Hopefully Co-operatives Fortnight and the 2012 International Year of Co-operatives will go some way to realising this aim. In the meantime we’ll keep ploughing on and banging at the door so to speak.

By the way, we are beginning work on a new school level resource. Early stages at the moment but it will explore some aspects of the food cycle. More news to follow!

The only two things certain in life now are death and exams!

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 How can we make them both useful?

 Author: Morag

With death being the first certainty, should we now sell the heat generated from cremated bodies to the national grid? This is something that we are just about to start questioning in public.  We seem to have got over our issues about donating useful organs from the dead to help the living, so quite rightly, we are now opening up debate about how to make even more use of us when we are no longer energy consumers. I’m not quite sure if this counts as “green” energy, (am I being socially insensitive?) but it sounds as though it may be more dependable than some of our wind farms if some recent information is anything to go by!

The other life certainty has become exams as a lot of people now seem to be able to avoid taxes but you can’t do anything without a written qualification of some sort! However I’m not sure that the usefulness of exams is as clear- cut as the usefulness of organ donation and heat recycling. Maybe this is not as sensitive a subject for discussion as the dead creating heat for the living, but it is taboo to suggest that most of the school exams system is not particularly useful to all our young people!  I write this as I have spent a number of weeks looking at a variety of offerings from a number of bodies and I am beginning to think that the “exam “ is still the end, rather than the means to becoming a useful citizen. The Higher is still viewed as the “gold” standard and this academic rigor is only achievable by a minority of students. How does that make the majority feel?  Second rate?

There are of course a few exceptions to this – courses that are more practical (vocational?) then theoretical (hence us offering ASDAN COPE to schools)  in these particular courses, students, at level 3, are expected to take responsibility for their own learning. I know that Curriculum for Excellence was designed to do just this – liberate the constraints of subject specialism, encourage personalisation and choice, responsibility for their own learning, but……in my discussions with schools and teachers, there is still a huge emphasis on how many and what grade of exams the students have passed. Consequently, a lot of the learning is still teacher led as it seems to me that teachers are assessed as to how well they have got students through the various exam hurdles. If the kids don’t do well in exams and the teacher is questioned – who is responsible for the learning and then who owns the learning? How can we develop the responsible citizens we crave if we don’t really let them take responsibility?  Ultimately schools are driven to get the number of exam passes up to make the school a “magnet” school and in turn ensures a good cohort of students which perpetuates the academic system! With our enduring absorption of favouring front left lobe thinkers are we still creating a two tier system of academic versus vocational? The by- product of this is that a lot our young people may leave school with good theoretical learning but employers complain because they can’t do practical things or use their initiative!  In my current favourite book “The Case for Working with Your Hands – or why office work is bad for us and fixing things feels good” , there is an interesting argument that the tide is turning and we will need more people with practical skills and problem solving in the future, as the online world will change what we, as humans require. An interesting read!

How can we then try to address this imbalance? One obstacle I have encountered, apart from the need for academic qualifications, is that offering alternatives to SQA exams are perceived as more expensive and in a time of budget restraint, a good alternative argument is required.    From my limited research into this it appears that since the SQA are partly funded by the government, local authorities pay for these qualifications, but if schools want to offer an alternative such as ADSDAN or ILM then the schools have to fund this out of their own budget.  If this is not the case, please let me know and I will amend in my next qualifications update! However SQA are now offering more vocational qualifications which can be up to SCQF level 6- a higher equivalence which may offer an alternative to accredit a different, and perhaps more useful, skill set for the majority of our students which will appeal to universities and  potential employers alike.

So this is my issue with our current exam system, to quote a favourite quote, “exams value what is measurable but don’t measure what is valuable” The active learning by doing is harder to “teach” capture and measure for each child, so I do understand that there needs to be some sort of “exam” to ensure tax payers (that are left!) are getting value for money, hence my foraging for alternative such as ASDAN and Institute of Leadership and Management courses.  I think we should all continue to question as to whether the “5 A’s at one sitting to get to uni” approach gives us the breadth and usefulness that our society needs, to prosper?  If courses are still broken down into hours, units, subject areas, timetables and ultimately exams to see if candidates have met the predefined criteria, then the school is judged on how well they have done this, we are still teaching to the exams  and not the students needs. Isn’t it better value for money to have young people free to learn skills that are useful to themselves and society even if there is no formal exam at the end of it?   The enduring conundrum to solve is; how do we get society to perceive all of us as having equal potential and merit so long as the exam system only rewards the chosen few with a university place and a debt of £25000?  The unsuccessful in the exams race hope for an apprenticeship, or a job, but I believe they still have the feeling that they weren’t quite “good enough” despite all their other useful skills

To finishn an optimistic note,(the sun is shiningtoday!) I do perceive a sea- change in attitude towards academic and vocational education having equal merit, but as always it take a long time to filter through the educational system. Let’s hope that we can find a way of more quickly ensuring that education in schools can be allowed to look beyond sitting and passing exams so that our current young people can be happy and useful in life before they are donating organs or in the crematorium, heating the local swimming pool or nursing home!

Learning and Teaching Resources

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A very useful site for students, teachers and academics who are interested in learning and teaching about co-operatives. Some good suggestions for group exercises and numerous articles explaining key topics.