Via Shutterhacks on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence: Telegraph today reports a conversation I had with their political editor James Kirkup about the potential for co-operative free schools to create the incentives and opportunities to drive up standards for the most disadvantaged:

Parents would be allowed to make a profit by running State-funded schools under plans being drawn up for the Conservative manifesto.

Groups of parents would form “co-operatives” to run a free school and then be able to pay themselves dividends if the school did not spend all of its budget, under the proposals.

Among the crucial questions we face today are how to get more for less out of the public services and, in particular, how to incentivise people to set up and run excellent schools for disadvantaged children in difficult areas. Please see the article for some of the arguments.

The origin of co-operatives – people-centred businesses – is contested but the Rochdale Pioneers are best known for their success and their principles, from which evolved the co-operative identity, values and principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

“Member economic participation” will surprise some but here’s how co-operatives are expected to put it into practice:

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

Successful enterprises make money, whether one calls it a surplus or a profit. As I said to the Telegraph, if that surplus is earned without force or fraud, it is a sign that value is being created for society.

Co-operatives are fierce defenders of their members’ interests and their communities, just as they pursue self-government relentlessly. For those of us who want to pursue the general interest by building up the bonds of civil society in liberty under the law, co-operatives offer a model which has been neglected for too long. Despite recent events, the co-operative movement could be about to enjoy a much-needed renaissance. I hope so.

Paul Goodman provides comment on this story for ConservativeHome.


  1. I think the idea of parents taking profit out of school budgets is a little alien to me, even though I m very much in favour of free enterprise as opposed to state intervention.

    There is an emotional attachment to kids education from their own parents, and as a parent myself, if I was in such a position of ” running ” a school, I d much rather every single penny was spent right at the sharp end. Schools are not supermarkets, kids only get one shot at getting an education and are in no position to be making their own choices.

    • And I feel sure most parents would agree with you and make the appropriate choices. A free co-operative school would be able to make those decisions in accordance with its members’ wishes, democratically expressed.