A report I worked on with colleagues at UWE reviewing learning from phase 1 of Golden Key, an 8 year initiative here in Bristol aimed at transforming services for those with multiple and complex needs.
Exciting and inspiring stuff in Manchester last Thursday at the Co-operative Education Against the Crises conference, which was (very well) organised by James Duggan from the Education and Social Research Institute @ Man Met Uni, and by the Co-operative College.
The day started with keynotes from Michael Apple, University of Wisconsin-Madison on Interrupting The Right: A Strategy For Change and by Mervyn Wilson, principle of the Co-operative College, on the latest developments in co-operative school models in the UK – putting these into historical context of both the 150 year old global co-op movement and marketising education reforms by recent successive governments.
Rather than attempt a summary of these two rich and thought provoking talks (they were filmed and are available here: I’ll use this post to report and give some first reflections on the themes that got me particularly fired up in the break out groups and open discussion sessions that I took part in.
I will though start by mentioning the nice visual metaphor that Mike Apple conjured up in his opening address, to account for “why the Right are winning the argument”. To paraphrase…
A school (read: education’s role in society) is on fire. The teachers and students (read: anyone with an interest in education’s role in society) are peering out of the windows of the burning building, looking for an escape. On the one side, they see Michael Gove (read: the Right/ neoliberalism/ marketisation). He’s holding a net, shouting “JUMP! JUMP!” On the other side they see Michael Apple (read: the Left/ critics of the reforms), who’s also wildly urging them to take the plunge. Except he’s not holding any sort of net. “WHERE’S THE NET?!” shout those trapped in the building. “WE’LL NEGOTIATE IT ON THE WAY DOWN!”, yells back Apple.
I recount this not because the analysis implicit in it of the current relationships between ideology, education policy, society and politics went unchallenged during the day (it didn’t – there were critical voices proposing both more nuanced and radically different takes). But rather because it seemed to sum up the energy and mood that the event was unified by: a recognition that critique alone is not enough, and the urgent need for plans of action – in particular ones that involve resistance embodied in the form of working alternatives. An answer to the question “but what do I do on Monday?” Or, as Richard Hall tweeted, the big “WHAT. IS. TO. BE. DONE?”
Breakout sessions were organised around sharing the learning to be taken from working examples of current co-operative educational models in the UK (of which there are a healthy and growing number). They also coalesced groups of people interested in and/or working in similar fields. The two I attended functioned much more like working groups than conference panel sessions.
The first was on co-operative youth services and in particular “mutuals” (model: Young Lambeth). Kevin Ford of FPM led us through a very pragmatic account of the model and particular examples of it, which are one increasingly popular response to the funding crisis in youth services in cash strapped local authorities around the country. He noted – amongst other things – the model was not without huge challenges and needed strong buy-in from staff. He explained that all youth service mutuals are not created equal, in that the degree of control over budgets by young members and staff can vary significantly, and in some instances be rather loosely defined. He also pointed out – which I found worthy of note – that the model necessitates creating a profit to be reinvested in services, it cannot work on a break-even basis; and this also fits with the history of co-ops, which were formed in a market place.
Discussion in this session focused on setting an agenda for issues we’d like to take forward, many of which were of keen interest to me and drew threads between my own research interests and previous work. These included:
- The governance structure of youth mutuals: do they reproduce neoliberal subjects even if the intention is the opposite? Reflections on the New Labour years, for instance, and critiques of participatory budgeting.
- The language of self-help and self-responsibility
- Participatory democracy vs representative democracy: how is a mutual one or the other?
- The use of the word “voice” in public services – a consumer notion, the equivalent of “choice” – but very different to the idea of voice in co-operative structures
- Sharing of the “joyful” experience of setting up and working in a youth workers co-op in Hackney
- My own interest in what role universities and academic researchers might play in co-operating with and helping bolster a fast-changing youth sector under attack.
Next, I attended the breakout where Mike Neary and colleagues from The Social Science Centre, Lincoln outlined this burgeoning co-operative alternative to the neoliberal university, which has attracted a lot of attention and been on many people’s radars. A great talk, where he outlined the dimensions of the project – small scale, experimental, but with much larger ambition in terms of starting a movement – and put it into historical context of:
- The philosophies of “communism” of the early co-op movement and Rochdale Pioneers
- Marx’s argument that co-ops are a tool for transcendence rather than transcendence themselves, and need to be allied to broader social movements
- The birth of the modern university in Berlin as a radical social project, and reaction against the scholastic dogmatism of the medieval university
He then noted that talks are on-going with the Co-operative in Manchester about the possibilities of developing a much larger scale national or transnational co-operative HEI, and briefly explored what this might look like. Huge enthusiasm for this project in the discussion groups, and there’s a mailing list you can join by emailing jwinn [at] lincoln.ac.uk
The afternoon was broken into open space, where participants proposed topics for further discussion then formed groups to talk about them, and closed with a facilitated discussion session to shape the agenda for action. Too much was noteworthy in all this to do justice to it all, but a few points that caught my attention were:
- In the group proposed by Graeme Tiffany of Federation for Detached Youth Work/ IoE/ independent on ‘Civil Society’ and its relationship to education, we had a rich discussion on the sources of optimism and action encompassed in this dynamic – local, national, international – concept. This seemed to us especially useful in a context where charities and “NGOs” are increasingly being brought into the work of the state through for instance commissioned service delivery, and ‘community’ is a concept much abused and polluted by neoliberal discourses. Civil society seems to offer both a potential reminder of the essential nature of the social, reactivating and recapturing the most important notions in ‘community’, and also to reclaim the ‘non’ in NGO. I found this an immediately useful handle for thinking about the types of relationships that I know – for instance – Sarah Eagle was so successfully using the University as a space for forging with her Play, Risk, and the City event the other week.
- Students from Reddish Vale Technology College giving a stirring account of their own takes on how and why students should have a ‘voice’ in their own education. One that stuck for me was being given access to knowledge about both pedagogic techniques and their own learning styles and preferences, at a young age, before asking them how they want to change their schools. Highly relevant not only to ‘formal’ education I think, and resonates for me around my own interest in youth participation, also setting some wheels spinning in terms of our recent reading group discussions on ‘powerful knowledge’
- A point about new movements in co-operative academies – and how they should be distinctive from other schools in their values – in the context of the comprehensivisation of secondary schools in the 1960s. Speaker reminded us that real negotiations were being made, for eg over curricula, uniforms, relationships of teachers to pupils, terms of address etc and this led to something radically and powerfully different. Certainly made me think about my own secondary education in a different light!
All in all: a fantastic day. Many thanks to the organisers and looking forward to the next steps and next events in the series.
…I don’t seem to have been updating this blog much! Though I have been writing the occasional guest post elsewhere, eg.
The Learning Lives group are involved in a number of innovative research projects. One of these is the 80 by 18 project which forms part of Keri Facer’s work for the AHRC Connected Communities programme. Here Paul Strauss (the project researcher) discusses the project and calls for contributions…
We held our second 80 by18 project workshop yesterday at the M-Shed, and now seems a good time for sharing some reflections. Around 30 people were at the table representing themselves and their organisations, almost all of whom work directly with Children &Young People in some form or have a strong interest in the work of those that do.
Despite a lower turnout than the first workshop in February, it was a really productive session. Workshop participants – some 80 by18 old hands, some newbies – got really engaged and helped us continue generating ideas for “experiences”, as well as conducting a first review and thematic categorisation on the 300 or so ideas that have already come in.
Here are some reflections – both mine and others’ – on the gathering process, and the ideas we’ve received so far:
- “Bystander syndrome” – people think it’s such as good concept that someone else is bound to put in their idea, or one just as good. Pin people down! Get the ideas in! We can sift out duplicates later
- Diversity of ideas – to get a good spread, it matters a great deal where ideas are sourced from –geographically, culturally, and organisationally/ institutionally. We’re doing all sorts of things to try to source diverse ideas, including street fieldwork in particularly targeted neighbourhoods, making links with community organisations and interest groups all over the city, and finding ways to capture the views of more marginalised young people.
- Quirky ideas? Some really inspiring ideas have come in, but taking an overview of them the more fully formed ones (idea + resources to make it happen + why it’s important) seem to reflect white, middle class, professional Bristol. What’s missing – felt several participants – is “quirky old Bristol”. Quirky is a word we keep coming back to in this project…
One submitted idea that was held up as emblematic of the type of thing we’re looking for was: “Visit every Poundland in Bristol”. On the surface, this seems a bit ridiculous (where are they all anyway, and why would you attempt to do this?). But actually it’s a quirky challenge that takes you places you mightn’t ordinarily go – including geographically/ sociologically – and is as much about the journey/ the process/ the adventure and what you’d see on the way. Shared reflection on this led to a new project coinage – “the Poundland factor”!
Another idea which was ‘favourited’ was “pick your own blackberries and make them into jam”. Why? The simplicity of it – on the one hand – but more the fact that it’s not a one off experience but something formative, involving skills and knowledge that you are likely to come back to many times in life and which may open up a different perspective on your locality and its resources. So there we have a “blackberry jam factor”, too.
A final reflection is that the 80by18 project is already about much more than developing a list. Some really revealing conversations are starting to take place within its gaps and “spaces” – about its significance as neutral space for networking and connecting and sharing ideas across the boundaries and structures that people working with children & young people find themselves stuck within. There is a clear sense that, as resources get squeezed, and as structures are dismantled and networks disrupted from the centre, these are the sorts of spaces where interesting conversations might happen and loose or not so loose federations spring up.
The call for ideas has been extended to 20th of April. Please do keep putting your own in, talking and sharing and encouraging others to submit theirs. Pin people down! Face to face is best. We’re adopting the ethos which should be familiar to anyone who’s been involved with recent mass social movements: if you think of something that needs doing, go for it! (He writes, before leaving the country for three weeks…)
This was originally posted on the Learning Lives blog based at Bristol University
“Growing up in a city like Bristol brings all sorts of opportunities and challenges. Doesn’t it?
Think about the sorts of resources Bristol has. It is a city with massive creative, technological, and green talent. It has world-leading industries and educational institutions. It has beautiful green spaces, and wonderful public buildings both old and new. It has fantastic people, both Bristol born and bred and others arriving and settling here from all around the world.
Think also about the sorts of challenges and opportunities that the city’s young people are facing, and might face over the next few years. Think about the changing world they might want to explore, and the difficulties, new possibilities and new choices that they might face.
What would happen if young people had a navigation tool that would let them find out easily just some of the activities, people, places and organisations in Bristol that could help them thrive and survive – whatever strange, delightful or disrupting developments the future brings?
80 by 18 is a new project that aims to do just that. It’s a list of 80 things to do before 18; it’s a wide range of experiences across the city.
The thing is, the list isn’t written yet.
And we’re not going to come up with the list, Bristol is! It’s a conversation; it’s a challenge.
That’s it, that’s the idea. Now it’s over to you!
What would you put on that list?”
Good session yesterday at the Association of Charitable Foundations conference, presenting with Jane Steele from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation the “major assessment of the impact of PHF’s funding since 2007″ which has been keeping us busy for much of the year.
Great to hear so many funders and others sharing their reflections. Particularly on the need to bring grantees into all this dialogue about impact, and acknowledging the need for “a culture change in evaluation, from monitoring and accountability to learning and development”. Where to start with that, I wonder?
We launched a report, which presents the Foundation’s new approach to impact measurement as a work-in-progress. It outlines the process we developed, the findings, and the next steps in terms of its strategic use.
For those interested in the nitty gritty of the research process, there are appendices on the PHF website describing how we assessed impact from project reports, how we graded evidence quality, as well as the scope and sampling
I look forward to engaging more fully with the Northern Rock Foundation’s approach and tool-kit, which they were presenting in the same session.