A new Scottish town to be owned and run by residents could get the go-ahead by the end of the year, paving the way for the country's first cooperative school.
A report published earlier this year by two Scottish thinktanks criticised Scotland's education system for being too uniform and lacking the diversity required to excel. But the businessmen behind proposals for a new town of 7,000 people in rural South Lanarkshire, to be run on cooperative principles, hope to change all that.
The Hometown Foundation, which recently saved an outdoor education centre in Biggar from closure (TESS, 7 June), has submitted plans to South Lanarkshire Council for Owenstown, a new town named after Robert Owen, creator of the model industrial town, New Lanark.
Along with more than 3,000 homes; cafes and restaurants; and a health centre, the charity plans to build three schools - two primaries and one secondary.
The charity's vision is that the increase in land value, once planning permission is granted, will create the financial strength to build the town, with the income generated from the sale of housing plots and commercial buildings reinvested in the development.
Jim Arnold, chairman of the Hometown Foundation, hopes that the Scottish government will meet the running costs of the schools.
The schools - like the town itself - would be run by cooperative trusts, with a majority of local residents sitting on them. Cooperative curricula would be introduced, based on cooperative principles and values (see panel), Dr Arnold added.
Jordanhill School in Glasgow is currently the only non-specialist state school in Scotland directly funded by the Scottish government. When East Lothian Council considered placing its schools in community-based trusts several years ago, education secretary Michael Russell said there was no enthusiasm in Scotland for the "free school" model favoured by Michael Gove, the Westminster education secretary.
The Hometown Foundation has yet to put its ideas directly to Scottish government officials. However, the response from South Lanarkshire Council education officials at a recent meeting was encouraging, said Hugh Donnelly, director of the Cooperative Education Trust Scotland.
A South Lanarkshire Council spokeswoman said: "The application in question is still being assessed and all aspects of it - including education - are being considered as part of this process."
The proposal would be decided upon by the full council, probably in the autumn, she added.
THE KEY VALUES
All cooperatives are governed by an internationally agreed set of values and principles, says the Cooperative Education Trust Scotland. Some of the values include democracy, self-help and self-responsibility.