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Power and Positionality in a Co-operative School Setting: the Challenge of Becoming Relational

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Deborah RallsORCiD


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This paper presents findings from a case study in an English co-operative school. The research explores alternative approaches to engagement that challenge the widely accepted notion that professionals “do to” students, parents and communities (Dyson and Kerr, 2013). This case study school is one of over 800 co-operative state schools in England, a school sector that has grown rapidly in the context of a capitalist command economy (Monbiot, 2013) that has resulted in English Education policy reforms which have led to the marketisation of state education. Against this background, co-operative schools have emerged; state schools with an ethos based on the globally shared co-operative values. Parents and carers, staff, students and the local community (school stakeholders) have direct engagement in the governance of the school, with each co-operative school becoming a community-based mutual organisation. In seeking alternatives to professionally-driven approaches to school engagement policy and practice this paper draws upon the concept of a relational approach to engagement as espoused by Warren et al (2009); a school and its stakeholders getting things done collectively, starting from the point of their “shared interest in advancing the education and well-being of children” (Warren et al, 2009, p.2213). This project uses a relational approach to explore the dynamics of power and positionality that emerge when considering multiple stakeholder viewpoints in a co-operative school governance structure (students, parents, staff and community members), exploring differing stakeholder perceptions of what engagement is for and how it should be enacted. It reflects on the issues this raises for a school attempting to become more relational ("doing with" not "doing to"). This paper presents findings transferable to any organisation wishing to develop democratic, co-operative governance structures and gain a better understanding of multiple stakeholder perspectives on how to engage in "doing with" rather than "doing to", illuminating both the challenges related to co-operative governance and its potential for more democratic, relational forms of engagement with stakeholders. References Dyson, A. and Kerr, K. (2013) Reviewing the field of school-community relations: Conceptualisations in the literature on school-community relations in disadvantaged areas. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Vancouver, 13 April 2013 Monbiot, G. (2013). With threats and bribes, Gove forces schools to accept his phoney 'freedom' | George Monbiot. [online] the Guardian. Available at: Warren et al. (2009) Beyond the Bake Sale: A community-based relational approach to parent engagement in schools. Teachers College Record 111(9), pp.2209-2254

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ralls D

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: International Co-operative Alliance International Research Conference 2016

Year of Conference: 2016

Acceptance date: 23/02/2016