Cameron tries to claim co-op movement for Tories

David Cameron has encouraged parents to set up their own schools, claiming this would raise standards.

The Conservative leader argues it should be easier for groups of parents to form co-operatives to found their own schools.

Mr Cameron said co-ops made up of parents or local residents should be able to demand allocated funding from local authorities and use it to establish schools free from centralised control.

Speaking in Manchester, Mr Cameron said: “What better way, then, to give parents direct involvement in their school than to give them ownership of it? To make them not just stakeholders, but shareholders – not of a profit-making company but of a co-operative built around the needs of local children?”

Although attacking ideological teaching methods and a lack of power for head teachers, the Tory leader said the real problem underlying schools is structural; there are not enough school places and parents do not have real choice over where their children learn.

Mr Cameron called for a new generation of co-operative schools, funded by the taxpayer but run by parents.

Schools minister Jim Knight insisted there was nothing new in Mr Cameron’s “latest wheeze” and said Labour had already handed parents the power to draw up plans for their own schools.

Mr Knight said: “The Labour government has been supporting projects that have seen the co-operative and mutual sector’s involvement in schools grow – including the Manchester academy programme, a number of specialist business and enterprise colleges and, with our support, a co-operative trust that is being developed in Hull.

“As a result of policies we put in place, the first parent promoted school – the Elmgreen School in Lambeth – opened just a few weeks ago with the support of the local Labour council, the Labour MP and the government.”

Steve Sinnot, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said co-ops would not address the core problem facing the education service.

Mr Sinnot said: “David Cameron has neglected to mention that there is a major democratic deficit in the running of schools. Private companies can now take over schools. Under the Conservative leader’s proposals groups of parents can do the same.

“The losers from both approaches are local communities themselves. Leaving the creation of schools to a local market creates social segregation.”

To facilitate his plan, Mr Cameron today launched the Conservative Co-operative Movement. This will be independent of the party and serve as a resource for Tory activists and community groups that want to set up their own co-ops to take over the local public services.

Mr Cameron attempted to claim co-ops as a natural extension of Conservative policy and said it was a “shame” they are normally associated with the left.

Co-ops are run by their members and in their interests, not for profit.

Nevertheless, the Tories appropriation of the co-operative movement was attacked by the Co-operative Party, which is closely linked to Labour.

At the last election 29 Labour MPs, including Ed Balls, stood as candidates for Labour and the Co-operative Party, having been selected by both parties.

Today, the Co-operative Party claimed the Conservatives will always be the party of profit, not collective action.

A spokesman said: “The Co-operative Party policies are an expression of the Co-operative Movement’s values and principles, which themselves are rooted in the labour philosophy.

“If David Cameron wishes to join us, he will first have to defect to the Labour party.”