Interview with the CEO; tying together your MAT with Cooperative Learning

Co-operative Education East is the first post-COVID client to specifically use Cooperative Learning to manifest a trust-wide coherency that will support the unique ethos of their individual schools’; CEO Paul Bunn shares some of his thoughts in this five-minute interview.

First of all, I’m very happy that Drew Howard and I finally have a publication date for the long awaited Beginner’s Guide to Cooperative Learning; do put 30th of November 2021 in your diary. As I look back over the 4-year writing process, perhaps the book’s most important promise is not of yet another cost-effective intervention, but rather, it is the unparalleled comprehensiveness of Cooperative Learning that stands out. Recognising this 360-degree potential is what makes Norfolk-based Co-Operative Education East stand out. I am pleased to share the thoughts of CEO Paul Bunn in this interview, made at Banham Primary School on 9th September 2021.

Paul Bunn, CEO of Co-Operative Education East

Listen now.

“We are an academy trust, but we have not yet explored our freedom and autonomy. This has given us the opportunity to really do that…”

Paul Bunn, LLB (hons), PG Dip Law. CEO of Co-Operative Education East.

Some thoughts…

The fact that Cooperative Learning improves attainment and social skills of all pupils simultaneously is just one example of how this method seems to effortlessly span all polarising dichotomies in current educational paradigms. Another example is how it empowers children, teachers and leaders altogether, as opposed to some other approaches, which posit agency in schools as a zero-sum game. A third example is how it engenders cohesion within the classroom, cohesion between the classroom and cohesion across schools working together in multi academy trusts. in that sense, this article really explores the third topic in Bouncing back from COVID with Cooperative Learning #1; The re-form of institutional cohesion.

I spent many hours over the summer holidays communicating with Paul Bunn and his headteachers, identifying each school’s unique challenges and strengths and where they overlapped. With three small rural primary schools in close proximity, the CEE is perfectly poised to turn Cooperative Learning from an attainment-boosting classroom strategy to the glue that ties together leaders, teachers, TAs, resources and diverse practises across the three schools; sharing ideas and materials, getting advice, bolstering current approaches and systems, building up communal experience and mastery – and saving money on training.

To my mind, Co-operative Education East (CEE) stands out as a shining example of a true vision for what a MAT could be. Followers of this blog will be aware of my alignment with Sir David’s position on the common good, and my many reflections on the benefit of cross-institutional collaboration, such as building localised research networks that reflect the communities which they serve directly. My co-author Drew’s own Boudica Trust have come along way with this after the initial training at Stalham Academy in 2014, Co-Operative Education East is the first trust I have worked with who have had this comprehensive focus before even planning the first training session.

Curious? Sign up for the free 45-minute webinar on 13th October.

We wanted to put the “Co-Operative” in our name into practice.

Paul Bunn, LLB (hons), PG Dip Law. CEO of Co-Operative Education East, 2021

All this is thanks to the uncompromising step-by-step approach that is the necessary component of effective Cooperative Learning. This very rigidness gives coherency across each institution, which in turn means that that everyone is clear on what’s being talked about when problems arise. The following examplary staff-room conversation is taken from our book:


‘In Sage and Scribe yesterday I lost track of who was doing what. Seriously, they were all over the place! What should I do, Mrs Johnson?’

‘Well, Maria, get the Sage to stand up, clasp his hands behind his back and look important, and add, “Is the Sage going to sit down?” to the instruction-checking questions. That generally solves the problem.’

To an outsider, this makes little sense; to Cooperative Learning practitioners familiar with Sage and Scribe, this 20 second conversation is all you need to completely rewire the activity.

Ironically, it is precisely this rigid step-by-step approach that brings the individual talents, experience and personality of each teacher into the spotlight, and by extension, the unique qualities, needs and vision of each school. And this in turn allows highly targeted professional development and coaching from leaders, and a sharing of good practice and solutions across vastly different schools in the same MAT. It is also this recognisable repetition, day after day, that sets learners free to focus on the actual subject matter as opposed focusing on the challenges of peer-learning (which has been noted as contributing to cognitive overload by several researchers).

The CEO and staff at Co-Operative Education East have generously allowed me to share their thoughts and experiences on these and many other topics with you. This will likely take the form of short interviews, so stay tuned and follow on Twitter, to which I am compelled by my publisher to return after a long, relaxing absence.

Curious? Sign up for the free 45-minute webinar on 13th October.

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

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