This article explores how a school’s decision to become co-operative affects its engagement relationships with students and parents. The findings stem from a wider study exploring approaches to engagement in a recently converted co-operative academy, a large secondary school in a northern English city. The article surfaces the possibilities and tensions that occur as the school seeks to reposition itself in the English education marketplace, with a co-operative model that explicitly sets out to promote mutualisation, not privatisation; ‘we’ rather than ‘me’. The process of becoming co-operative is examined by exploring the underlying purposes of the school’s engagement with students and parents and the relationships that emerge as a result. The study surfaces the issues faced as a co-operative school seeks to enact thicker, ‘collective forms’ of democratic engagement against a backdrop of English education policy based on individualistic notions of democracy as freedom of choice. The findings point to the need for a different policy understanding of school engagement, an understanding that suggests engagement is about the process of developing more equitable, collaborative relationships with stakeholders and rests on the repositioning of students, parents and community members – from ‘choosers’ and ‘consumers’ to a collective public in education.