HeppSY+ …Cooperative Learning adds value to HE access programme

I am partnering with a leading specialist in Enterprise Education to help challenged young people in South Yorkshire progress in HE.

The latest success story of Henderson Green Primary Academy (formerly known as “The worst school in Norwich”) achieving 90% combined after only 2 years of sustained application of Cooperative Learning is a reminder that this approach is uniquely suited to engaging and involving the lowest attaining and most challenging learners. 

This axiom holds ever more true as we move up through the key stages, peaking at university level. Simply put, Communication is the fuel of Cooperative Learning, so the more language and cognitive scope, the more power it has. The effectiveness of Cooperative Learning in HE/FE is extremely well documented in the research literature and confirmed by my experiences with University of East Anglia and Barking & Dagenham College and in my ongoing teaching role at University of Leicester. I was therefore extremely pleased to be contacted by the Higher Education Progression Partnership South Yorkshire Plus to augment their HeppSY+ phase 2 and legacy programme.

Ready? Unlimited! 

I am especially fortunate to be partnering with Catherine Brentnall, of Ready Unlimited, whose innovative work in Enterprise Education first caught my attention when I was setting up the first Co-Creative Conversation on Participatory Budgeting in Schools

The Participatory Budgeting in Schools programme is to be run using Cooperative Learning and both of these have many natural links to Enterprise Education. This idea of Enterprise Education through Cooperative Learning instantly struck a chord with Catherine, who is part of a group of researchers who are questioning the universal benefits of the standard competitive approaches, such as the classic “Dragon’s Den” often used to tick the annual “Enterprise Day” box. Her use of realist evaluation recently made the front page of the TES, where she and her colleagues critiqued the assumptions that competitive activities will build skills and confidence. 

Read Catherine’s article The contribution of realist evaluation to critical analysis of the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education competitions” on sagepub.

Pertinent to the new Inspection Framework, Catherine’s approach is to support teachers to integrate enterprise, and more lately, elements of careers, into the curriculum. Reflecting on my conversations with Ofsted’s Sean Harford, the overlap with Participatory Budgeting is, again, obvious. 

Now, this project for HeppSY+ will enable us to combine expertise in Cooperative Learning and Enterprise Education within a Widening Participation context, in synergy with my parallel work on Participatory Budgeting in Schools.

There is good reason to ask questions and look for alternative approaches. Despite massive massive investments in Widening Participation since the early noughties, impact have been found wanting.

“Despite nearly 20 years of concerted policy attention and significant funding streams, stark differences remain in the proportions of young people from different socioeconomic groups who progress to higher education (HE) in the UK.”

– Harrison & Waller, 2018 *

The context of Hepp

Higher Education Progression Partnership South Yorkshire Plus (HeppSY+) supports young people from Year 9 who live in 45 target wards most at risk of missing out on higher education. Pertinent to the recent report by the ACSL on the “Forgotten Third” (i.e. KS4 pupils who fall short of a grade 4 pass in English and maths), higher education participation in these areas is both low and significantly lower than expected based on GCSE-level attainment. So, we not only have a bigger percentage of the Forgotten Third, we also have the fortunate 2/3rds who do pass being less likely than national average to enter HE.

As is the case with any and all educational endeavours (look no further than the new-found focus in the 2019 Inspection Framework), HE outreach is most effective when delivered as a progressive, sustained programme over time. For phase 2, HeppSY+ has created a unique progression framework tackling four core challenges to HE access: Higher Education Knowledge, Career Knowledge, Confidence and Resilience, and Attainment, each accessed at the three advancing levels, which each increase the intensity of activity students can undertake and the skills they can expect to receive.

The framework defines the specific changes that are expected for an individual learner over time, driven by set activities run by post-graduate Education Advisors (or “EAs”), salaried Sheffield Hallam University staff who may either be visiting or embedded in schools.

The task

Our task for HeppSY+ is to design around 20 activity packs that may be used by such EAs in single lessons or combined to fill a day. The activities will be mapped to the Progression Framework, with special focus on Confidence and Resilience, but which should also ‘introduce students to the possibilities of enterprise and entrepreneurship while at HE and after HE’ as the brief states. 

In the bigger picture, the activities must be engaging for all students, support the specifically targeted students’ road to HE, and seamlessly let the schools tick the Widening Participation, Enterprise Education, Character Education and PSHE boxes to motivate school leadership to engage with the resources. (Very much akin to the sales pitch for engaging with Participatory Budgeting: Get stuff done well with less work!)

The simple, scalable nature of Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns makes them the ideal vehicle for this. A single such CLIP can be repeated endlessly with different content to form any number of activities which, if well staged, practically run themselves. Given the activities will be organised by young post-grad non-teachers, the challenge for Catherine and I is to get the pack content just right. We plan to include not only prompt questions, but also examples of modelling and scaffolding, all organised on slides and complemented by teacher guides, to allow EAs to set up the activities successfully.

As usual with Cooperative Learning, you get a lot more than you pay for. It’s the natural consequence of activating and synergising the limitless potential of the human mind.

Let the schools tick the Widening Participation, Enterprise Education, Character Education and PSHE boxes to motivate school leadership to engage with the resources.

With HeppSY+ legacy in mind, I want to note that wherever Cooperative Learning has been deployed, CLIPs have filtered into other subjects and contexts. A most poignant example of this is the Sheringham Maths SSIF which saw a dissemination of CLIPs into RE and English within three weeks after the first round of training. As a consequence, the consistent use of these packs may potentially introduce schools to new ways of thinking about enterprise education specifically and life-skills development within the delivery of the general curriculum.

We will begin trials in schools in November 2019. Final evaluation in June 2020.

If you want to keep up with the project or join the conversation, @werdelinEdu and @areyoureadyteam will be twittering to #Ented #cooperativelearning. Do follow, share and like and, especially, challenge: We recognise “Cooperative Enterprise Education” is a new field entirely and consider ourselves explorers rather than experts. 

Useful links




Interview with Catherine on Enterprise Education

About Participatory Budgeting

werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

* Neil Harrison & Richard Waller: “Challenging discourses of aspiration: The role of expectations and attainment in access to higher education,” British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 44, No. 5, October 2018, pp. 914–938. DOI 10.1002/berj.3475.

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