Rochdale Pioneers – Co-operative movement

On a wet winter evening I settled down to watch the biographical film about the Rochdale Pioneers Co-operative movement. The film itself (produced by the Co-op – so possibly a little biased) tells the story of how the first Co-op store was successfully opened, despite many economic and social challenges (you can find out more at Although the Co-op movement grew out of Rochdale in 1844 it was Robert Owen, a Welsh man, who then moved to Scotland, who is widely credited as being instrumental in encouraging co-operative communities. His mill, at New Lanark, can be visited today and is now a world heritage site (

The Rochdale Pioneers film is, in places, a little clunky (you can read a review at: but it covers the key points of the story. One of the most striking messages was the way in which the Pioneers persevered despite having no expertise as shopkeepers, financial backing (other than their own savings) or meaningful political support. It also highlighted the way in which those with power (financial or knowledge) were able to manipulate situations, and other people, to preserve their position of privilege.

Toad Lane Co-op Rochdale Via: Scarletharlot69 From:

Toad Lane Co-op Rochdale
Via: Scarletharlot69 From:


So what can we learn from the story of the Rochdale Pioneers? The way in which the Pioneers worked together, and organised themselves, meant they ultimately succeeded in their aims. Also drawing parallels to today it is sad that certain groups in society are still being marginalised and kept down by those with power, or an agenda. I believe a modern example is illustrated in the recent series Channel 4 show Benefit Street. This show caused a huge backlash in ‘social-media land’, and now it appears the depiction of life there wasn’t entirely accurate (this article provides links to some real hard data Perhaps the production company did not set out to fuel such hatred, but by editing out certain stories, and residents, they painted an inaccurate picture of this community. However, many of those in positions of power and privilege directed abuse at these residents. Instead of aiming abuse and anger at certain groups in society maybe, in future, we could  show some compassion, and encourage community and co-operative working where possible. Oh, and make sure you join the Co-op too!

The Co-operative today



Tough Young Teachers – Teach First teacher training

Tonight BBC3 broadcast the first episode of a documentary series focusing on six young teachers embarking on the Teach First training scheme (details available at The Teach First scheme includes links to a University results in PGDE and Qualified Teacher Status being achieved within the first year. On completion of the two year scheme participants become Teach First Ambassadors, although (according to the Teach First website) 30% then choose to leave teaching completely. The scheme is based on the premise that high performing graduates make the best teachers. The participants are placed in schools in deprived areas having initially attended a six week residential Summer Institute. A recent OECD report (published 2011, available at identifies Singapore (page 9) and Finland (page 11) as examples of countries with high performing school systems where the approach of attracting the very highest performing graduates makes a positive difference.

Of course the English education system, and indeed wider society, is considerably different to that of Finland and Singapore. This leads on to the argument that, especially in education, international comparisons are interesting but of little value to policy makers. There could also be other factors at play. For example, if wider society, in countries such as Singapore and Finland, holds teachers in high esteem, then this will then be seen as a desirable profession. As a result the highest performing graduates will be attracted to this higher status profession. This is could be a classic example of confusing correlation with causation.

Singapore – offering a different educational experience to the UK
Available at:

Personally I find trying to consider the Teach First scheme objectively a real challenge. I have to admit I am slightly sceptical of some of the elements of this scheme. However, I qualified through the Graduate Teacher Programme (which has some similarities to the Teach First scheme) and the fast track nature, high degree of classroom contact and steep learning curve really suited me (and I certainly wasn’t a high flying Oxbridge graduate!).

During my GTP training year I learnt a lot, and quickly, but looking back there were undoubtedly times when the children’s education suffered. I am also sure that many good, even excellent, teachers will be produced via the Teach First scheme as it develops (including those featured on Tough Young Teachers ) but one fundamental principle still concerns me. One of the underpinning principles is that these top graduates can ‘teach first’, then have the possibility to move to (what some may see as) more important or valued careers (such as a stockbroker maybe?). Of course there is no reason why teaching has to be a career for life, but if long term retention rate for the Teach First graduates is low, will these high flyers (who have already gained plenty from society) be benefiting more from this process than the children they teach?

Welcome to 2014

Well it is a new year so here we go – entering the digital world of blogging. I plan to use this blog to share (hopefully) useful information and thoughts about education, in my role as a Lecturer in Education. I’ll also comment on wider political issues, in particular relating to the environment and social equality (and inequality). Of course, at times, these issues are likely to overlap. I might also add things about the fair city of Dundee – and other places I happen to end up visiting.

So 2014 is a big year for Scotland, and the rest of the UK. The Independence Referendum  for Scotland is planned for 18th September, later this year. The official website tells you more, although as with anything in politics, no one can be certain of what will happen post referendum. Currently the Better Together ‘No’ campaign has a fairly healthy poll lead, but the ‘Yes’ campaign argue that the poll lead is narrowing, and they have the momentum.

The Scottish Green Party (which I am a member of – so I must declare an interest here) are in favour of independence, but have a different view of an independent Scotland than the SNP. This is based around a sustainable economy and improving services on a local level. This is a pragmatic, rather than partisan, view as the Scottish Green Party Co-convenor Patrick Harvie (@patrickharvie) explains “Greens are brought together as a party by a different agenda – one that can be pursued in Scotland as part of the UK or as an independent country. It’s just that most of us think independence would help.”

Compulsory Education is something that is unlikely to be directly affected by the vote as the Scottish Education system is separate from that of the other parts of the UK. Teachers and educators in Scotland can take heart from the knowledge that they are immune from the changes being brought about by Michael Gove and the Westminster Collation Government. The general consensus from teachers and educators south of the border is that changes to the education system, and the National Curriculum, will have an adverse effect on the future of children. There may be some people in education that support Mr Gove, but I am yet to meet one!

In case you were feeling overly cheerful here is a picture of Mr Gove. I particularly like the fact that there is middle aged man in a suit lurking in the home corner (behind Mr Gove) holding a listening device. In usual circumstances I do not think this would be approved of and I do hope he has had a DBS/PVG check.

Despite being a ‘Gove free zone’ there are changes afoot within Scottish Education. The GTCS (the professional registration body for Scotland) are currently rolling out a new system of re-accreditation for teachers and educators. Again only time will tell how this works out but, as I am a participant in the pilot scheme, it seems to be moving ahead fairly smoothly. If you want to read more about the GTCS Professional Update programme you can visit their website:

The fab avatar was done by the very talented @will_berry for a recent research project. It is me, or rather me as I wish to look!

Image by @will_berry

Well I think that is enough for now… and if you want to get in touch use the twitter thing @richardjholme. And I should give credit for my fab avatar, which was drawn by University of Dundee lecturer, and very talented artist, @will_berry for a recent research project. It is me, or rather me as I wish to look!