Pippa chatting to students at Co-op Academy Failsworth

If you’re up on Co-op history, you’ll know that education (and access to it) has been one of the most important Co-operative principles since the Rochdale Pioneers. In 1849, on the first floor of the Co-op store in Toad Lane, ‘self-improvement classes’ were put on for members so that everyone had the opportunity to learn.

Skip a couple of centuries and Co-op Academies are doing much the same – encouraging that thirst for knowledge, and providing those opportunities to learn for thousands of students in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the North of England. All through the lens of co-operation and our Co-op values.

Outside of Co-op Academy Failsworth

I’m proud that our Co-op is the largest business sponsor of academies in the UK, and through the Co-op Academies Trust, manages ten academies – with three more being added to the family in 2018. I was privileged enough to visit two of them – Failsworth and Manchester – to see firsthand the difference they’re making to students, teachers and their communities.

A lesson in values and recognition

Co-op Academy Failsworth is one of the Trust’s newest academies. We started working with them in 2015 when they were in Special Measures. It was fantastic to hear from Principal Phil Quirk about the rapid progress that’s been made since then.

The young people here are getting a better deal, and the school now has a clear direction and vision.

It was amazing to see how they’ve taken our Co-op behaviours – the Ways of Being Co-op – and are using them as their own values to drive school improvement.

Working with our Brand team they’ve transformed the identity of their new building, but more importantly they’ve introduced a reward system in class based on the four behaviours.

I chatted to Head Girl Casey, Deputy Head Boys Henry and Zack, and the newly set up School Council, about the difference those values are making to the school and their experience of it.

They’re convinced it’s pushing the students towards better behaviour and creating an environment built on respect.

Pippa chatting to the School Council at Co-op Academy Failsworth

The parallels between education and business

Co-op Academy Manchester is a school much further on in their journey with the Co-op Academies Trust. I was amazed to hear that in 2010 it was the worst attended school in the country and now it’s attendance is in the Top 50 schools nationally – what an achievement.

Walking around the building, the similarity between Co-op’s work space in One Angel Square (our support centre in Manchester) is clear to see. There are no narrow corridors or suffocating classrooms – just open spaces supporting the collaborative and co-operative learning that’s happening here.

Open spaces at Co-op Academy Manchester

The feedback mechanisms in place between both students and their peers, and students and their teachers, are so impressive. I chatted to the School Council about the work they do in providing honest feedback to teachers about lessons so that continuous improvement is always a number one priority.

I also sat in on a regular term-time meeting with all the headteachers of our Co-op Academies and it was brilliant to hear how they’re learning from each other, sharing best practice and giving honest feedback. This to me is the best sort of co-operation and something we, as a business, can learn from.

Students’ knowledge of the Co-op and our roots is staggering. They’ve even named their school houses after the Rochdale Pioneers. To them, coming to school is like going to work.

The best bit was when one student described their school as being ‘part of our Co-op’. That’s when I realised how powerful the Co-op Academy model really is to our future.

Colleagues of the future

Pippa chatting with the Student Council at Co-op Academy Manchester

I met a couple of students who’ve already been on work experience with us and loved it. This year we found placements for 89 students across our business, and took on 7 students in our Co-op Insurance Customer Service team as apprentices. For me, this is the most exciting part of working with our Co-op Academies. They’re the colleagues of our future.

Pippa Wicks

Deputy CEO, Co-op

Join the conversation! 19 Comments

  1. From personal experience the Co-op schools model really makes a difference to the lives of students and sets them up for success in the future. Not forgetting that this model is not exclusive to the Co-op business as there are numerous Co-operative Schools trusts throughout the UK. For example, I am involved in a Co-op Trust for Special Schools that deal with a range if issues from ASD to social, emotional and mental health. If ever there was an example of the power of co-operation in education then this trust is it. It works because it makes a massive difference to the most disadvantaged and dispossessed and I have seem some truly inspiring situations where, had it not been for the Co-operative way, kids lives would have turned out a lot differently. We need to develop ways of co-operation between all of these trusts to leverage the benefits of this model, enabling kids of all abilities and backgrounds to realise their dreams and aspirations.

  2. Its good that the COOP principles have played a part in improving the school. As for open plan workspace, they have just done that in our depot but I chose to stay in an office, I’m lucky I had a choice.
    I prefer the quiet with the option to stick my nose out the door to converse as required plus I don’t like this hot desk approach.

  3. I am delighted to read about the involvement of The Co-op Group in the academy programme. Can we please ensure this good news is shared very widely? I feel it would make good press release and could feature on social media outlets to get the recognition this success deserves.
    Well done Pippa on a very good piece of work.

  4. I work at 1AS, but when I’m not working, I’m an instructor with the Air Cadets at the Failsworth squadron. A number of our cadets are from the Co-op Academy, so I see first hand the change it brings about in them – as well as the effect we have on them and encourage them to take back to school.

    It’s also notable that before the change to the academy, kids from that school would never have come to organisations like the cadets. Now that they do, our numbers have increased as word gets around about all the great things they can do.

  5. I would disagree with the premise that supporting schools is “much the same” as the self-improvement classes that were put on for members so that everyone had the opportunity to learn.

    We certainly could be doing both. There is some great technology out there that would allow us to give every member the opportunity to learn.

    So far this organisation hasn’t demonstrated the vision or the desire to do anything significant about it.

  6. This is much more high-profile commitment than there has been in the past and it’s good that Pippa is so involved and so impressed. There are plenty of calls on her time and she chose to draw attention to the Academies.

    It’s been my privilege to work with some of the young people from our Academies when they have joined us for work experience. Helping them wasn’t such a popular task when we were looking for volunteers and a lot of people managed to swerve out of getting involved.

    I hope Co-op colleagues will remember the good impression the students created when we come to ask for support the next time the academies want to place people in 1AS !

  7. Great article showing the impact that we as an organisation can have in education. Great to see the Ways of Being Co-op in use too!

  8. I would just like to congratulate Phil Quirk, his colleagues and students for welcoming Pippa Wicks and clearly providing her with such a good perspective of our growing Academy profile. Pippa’s blog is showing great support from Coop Group and should be inspirational for everyone involved in our Multi Academy Trust.
    Its a great piece for the other schools that are currently considering joining the Trust and the further expansion that we hope to enjoy in the months and years ahead. The Coop difference in the way it does business and revisiting its roots is an exclusive reason for us to be proud of what has been achieved so far

  9. Great to see this. It’s exactly the sort of thing our co-op should be supporting. As well as being potential colleagues they are potential members and customers too. When they become adults, hopefully they will see the value of shopping with a business that really does care.

  10. I think “disadvantaged” is a highly variable definition and can understand why some think it applies to the area and others do not. I am concerned about fully open plan areas such as Angel Square being praised as a perfect work area. The noise, intrusion and total lack of privacy is not everyones cup of tea and is detrimental to those with introverted personalities. For those extroverts it is a perfect stage and I do feel a mix of work spaces would be better for us to champion in our buildings.

    • Hi Rob, I work in Facilities Management with a remit to look at improving our workspace. We will never keep every one of our 4000 colleagues who use 1AS as a base happy but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this. mark.wilcock@coop.co.uk

  11. I’m a STEM Ambassador and did some work there a year ago – its a great school, which appeared to be instilling great attitudes – I too was impressed.

  12. Was surprised to read the implication that Failsworth is a disadvantaged community – I grew up there and still visit on a regular basis and I certainly wouldn’t describe it as disadvantaged !
    Nevertheless good work done by the Academy

    • Hi Julie. Pippa meant that out of our ten academies many are working in disadvantaged communities. Thanks ^Rachel

      • Hi Rachel, did you specifically check with Pippa on that point?

        The way the article is written certainly suggests that Failsworth is a disadvantaged community. Maybe some judicious editing or a Tone of Voice session is required to rectify this?

        Living in Failsworth I don’t personally see it as being disadvantaged – unless you count the closure of the Co-op Food Store there of course. The loss of it’s community presence has certainly been felt.

        • Hi KG I was with Pippa at these two academies yesterday. She was talking more broadly about all our Co-op Academies. Thanks ^ Rachel

        • I’m also a Failsworth lad and agree about the disadvantaged comment – yes there’s a couple of “poorer” estates but generakky the kids walk round in designer tracksuites or carry expensive handbags. Completely agree about the lack of a Co-Op shop anywhere near – closest shops now are Blackley and the Green Quarter – not sure if there’s any left in Lees / Saddleworth but that’s a bit of a trek for a few bits mid-week. This really needs to be recetified – the number of people I know that were annoyed McCools had taken over was very high.

  13. What an amazing experience to share – makes me feel very proud that we’re able to have such an impact on young lives – and doing it the Coop way, with The Coop values embedded in it – awesome.

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