Understanding Engagement in a Co-operative School Setting: An Exploration of School-Stakeholder Relationships

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis focuses on engagement between a school and its stakeholders: the students, parents and community members. It sets out to illuminate examples of alternative approaches to engagement that challenge the widely accepted notion that professionals do to students, parents and communities (Kerr et al, 2016). In order to do so, this research presents a distinctive case study on stakeholder (student, parent and community) engagement in a particular type of state school in England, a Co-operative school. Through its governance structure and adherence to the Co-operative values, a Co-operative school sets out explicitly to resist the tendency to do to its stakeholders by looking to develop forms of engagement based on more equal partnerships. Parents and carers, staff, students and the local community are invited to have direct engagement in the governance of the school by becoming co-operative members, making each Co-operative school a community-based mutual organisation. Conceptually, this thesis draws upon contrasting notions of engagement, particularly 'unilateral' and 'relational' forms of engagement as espoused by Warren et al (2009). This study identifies a unilateral approach to engagement as emphasising "'power over' others, the capacity to get others to do one's bidding" (Warren et al, 2009, p.2213), whereas a relational approach, in contrast, is defined as 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 thesis analyses the extent to which the relationships between school and different stakeholders are moving towards a more 'relational' model of engagement. The wider policy context is also considered, revealing how school-stakeholder relationships are affected by policy framings of 'what counts' as engagement. Findings show that whilst the nature of school-student relationships appears to be developing in ways that are more relational, school-parent relations seem to be more unilateral in nature, in spite of school having made the decision to 'become Co-operative'. The author shows where the spaces of possibility occur for engagement to be experienced through processes of democratic governance and "collective endeavour" (Whitty, 2006, p.8) and reveals the challenges faced when tensions emerge between differing policy, school and stakeholder understandings of engagement. This thesis thus surfaces the complex interrelationship between policy and school engagement practice, illuminating the shifts in different school-stakeholder relationships that occur as a result of policy change.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKirstin Kerr (Supervisor) & Ruth Lupton (Supervisor)


  • Social justice
  • Co-operative
  • Democratic education
  • Engagement
  • School-stakeholder relationships
  • Relational approach

Cite this