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IPPR - SchooLets

The Institute for Public Policy Research is Britain's leading progressive think tank. Our objective is to put forward practical and achievable recommendations on changes to public policy and contribute to public understanding of social, economic and political questions.

IPPR is seeking development funding to initiate SchooLets, an action research project that aims to give schools the encouragement, advice and support to start their own LETS (local exchange trading systems).


A LETSystem is an arrangement between a group of people (and businesses and other organisations - ed) whereby they agree to exchange goods and services, not as one-to-one bartering but with a pooled system of credits and debits. Thus they create a local currency which can only be spent within this group.

On providing a service, traders earn local currency units which are issued by other traders as cheques, and are then registered as credits in a locally-managed central account. Traders then spend from their account with any other members of the network. All credits and debits are interest-free. (Smart cards, computers and cell phones can supplement the cheque system - ed.)

LETS can complement the work of existing micro-credit initiatives in a variety of ways, building social capital and enabling both marginalised and wealthier communities to effectively identify and pool local resources to meet local needs.


LETS are, as yet, untried in the school setting. This is surprising since, in many ways, schools are ideal locations for LETS to take place. A school that successfully introduced LETS could benefit from the following outcomes:

· Greater parental involvement in school life

There is a growing belief and evidence that a positive engagement with parents is a key factor in school quality. This goes far beyond parental involvement in their individual child's learning. The 'parent effect' appears equally important in schools across the range of situations, but can be especially important in schools in disadvantaged areas, where such participation can act as a protective barrier against the multiple factors that cause underachievement at school. For many parents, Family Learning has proven to be the first, informal step towards employment or training. LETS could have a similar effect.

This Government has launched several initiatives to improve parental involvement in learning at the national level (for instance the National Year of Reading), but has been less successful at encouraging schools to engage with parents in innovative, creative ways. SchooLets could encourage parents (especially the 'not yet reached') to engage with schools in new ways, harnessing their untapped skills and passions. Although the main driver for good home-school relations will always be the dynamism of individual staff and parents, SchooLets could become ideal vehicles to energise the involvement of parents in school life. Parents would not only be volunteers, but shape school culture through such involvement.

· School as community hubs

SchooLets could also provide schools with a mechanism to reach out beyond its parents. Schools could use LETS to become social capital banks, where families and the wider community can invest, deposit and withdraw various forms of support. Organisations and individuals from both private and voluntary sectors would also be involved in SchooLets. There are also opportunities for LETS to be organised across neighbouring schools, thus fostering cooperation and interdependence.

· Citizenship Education

Citizenship is now part of the National Curriculum, and will be statutory in secondary schools from 2002. SchooLets could become an integral part of a school's citizenship curriculum, encouraging active citizenship, social and moral responsibility, and an alternative form of 'financial literacy'. In any SchooLets, the involvement of pupils would be central. As well as participating in trading their own skills and resources, SchooLets should, as far as possible, be co-ordinated by pupils.

SchooLets Scenarios

A parent earns LETS by assisting in painting and decorating the school one weekend. Her child uses the LETS to pay for an after school activity.

Another parent earns LETS through supporting children's ICT learning. The parent spends the LETS to buy books from a local shop participating in LETS. The shop may spend the LETS on an advert in the school newsletter... (and with participating businesses and community organisations - ed.)

A pupil earns LETS by becoming a learning mentor for a younger pupil. He uses the LETS to buy a mobile phone voucher (donated to the school by a telecom).

A teacher is looking for a car mechanic, and pays a parent in LETS, which he has earned from running an after school activity. The parent pays for a pupil to babysit in LETS, who uses them to pay for tuition from another parent.

The Proposal

IPPR's project will initiate LETS in twelve pilot schools in up to four clusters, all based in England. The project will be co-ordinated by Joe Hallgarten, researcher at the IPPR. It will rely on the active participation of a link broker (teacher, parent or another) in enthusiastic schools. However, the project's fundraising will aim for schools to run LETS at no costs to themselves. This would include the project buying release time for any link brokers to meet regularly.

Outcomes and Dissemination

The primary outcome of the project will be to have twelve schools in up to four clusters who have experimented with LETS for at least one year. At this stage, IPPR will publish a project report, including an evaluation, and hold an event to publicise the project. External evaluations would be carried out by the Citizenship


IPPR has a strong track record of innovation in education and training policy. Our 1998 report on education for disaffected teenagers, Wasted Youth has already influenced government policy. IPPR is also well known for its work on the University for Industry. The education team has recently published Tomorrow's Citizens, a critically acclaimed collection on citizenship and education. Its most recent report on parent-school relationships, Parents Exist OK!?, is already beginning to inform policy and practice.

IPPR acts as a forum for debate on a range of issues, bringing together practitioners, key government advisors, academics and other experts. We also, quite uniquely for a think-tank, involve the public in almost every aspect of our work through focus groups, citizens' juries and opinion polling. IPPR's Public Involvement Programme is at the forefront of developing and promoting public involvement in all aspects of public policy.

The SchooLets project will mark a new direction in IPPR's activities, since it requires grassroots implementation, rather than research alone. The project could therefore have a considerable influence over the future direction of IPPR.

If you are interested in participating in the project, please contact Joe Hallgarten, Research Fellow in Education, on 0207 470 0024 or at j.hallgarten@ippr.org.uk