Michael Gove isn’t keen on state schools being allowed to make a profit, but Ryan Shorthouse of Bright Blue has previously championed the idea – and, now, so has Steve Baker, my excellent successor as Conservative MP in Wycombe, though in a particular form. He has told the Daily Telegraph that he would like to see groups of parents being able to run free schools as co-operatives. “I am greatly attracted by the idea of parents forming co-operatives and controlling free schools and budgets,” he said. “Why shouldn’t parents form cooperatives to run schools, make a profit then pay out some of that money in dividends and invest the rest in the school?” Baker is an enthusiast for the co-operative model, believing that it could later be extended to healthcare, and led a recent Commons debate about it.
Labour would be bound to misrepresent a manifesto commitment to this idea, even were any profit-making clearly to be limited to groups of parents. None the less, Baker is right to show a lively interest in the co-operative model, which is not to be confused with the Co-op (which has had its troubles recently, and which funds a political party – the Co-operative Party, which one cannot join if one is a member of any political party other than Labour.
Talking of schools, there is clearly a case for more schools to be able to select by ability, as Graham Brady argued at the time of the 2011 education bill, since they are already allowed to select in so many other ways. Such a move would also provide a means of luring a means of luring independent schools into the state sector – or, in the case of some former direct grant schools and others, back into the state sector. (A grammar school that becomes an academy can remain selective, while an independent school that does so cannot.) But the significance of Baker’s intervention is that, as I pointed out recently, that views of the five chairmen of the ’22’s policy committees – Baker, John Redwood (economy), Edward Leigh (foreign affairs), Robert Buckland (home affairs) and Neil Parish (environment and local government) will become more and more newsworthy as the manifesto process continues.