Austerity cuts are hitting music teachers in almost every local authority area. But the Musicians’ Union (MU) says worker co-ops are stepping in to protect both teachers and their students.
Fran Hanley, the MU’s music education official, says funding for all young people’s music services in England has either been restricted or is about to be restricted. While limited funding still comes from parents and central government, in many cases council funding had stopped completely.
This has affected not only the teachers who provide one-to-one and group lessons in UK schools, but also their students.
In Milton Keynes, for example, nearly 100 teachers were to be made redundant due to council funding cuts in October 2013. But with support from the MU, Swindon Music Co-operative and the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, 60 teachers formed Milton Keynes Music Co-operative. It launched in March with a concert by co-op members, their students and pianist and conductor Craig Greene.
The co-op works alongside the Community Learning MK Music Faculty to deliver the government’s national music plan in Milton Keynes. Its members share resources and good practice, and can benefit from jointly organised training and accreditation.
Director Julian Pentz said some teachers were now worse off and others were better off, but the co-op had prevented “a race to the bottom”. “We had to do something to preserve our jobs,” he said. “It’s going well overall, with small group teaching in schools being sustained or expanded.”
There are established teaching co-ops in Newcastle, Swindon, Grimsby, Devon, Gloucestershire and Bristol, and the MU says more are in the pipeline. Fran Hanley singles out Cotswold Music Tutors as a co-op which is working with its local authority partner to give teachers a say in what can be a chaotic and competitive sector. “It’s a very positive, welcome example of partnership working with co-ops which bucks the trend,” she says.
“All the teachers lost their jobs, but the music hub has really embraced a positive working relationship with the tutors, they’re not in competition with them.
“A lot of the music services who’ve made teachers self-employed are now asking teachers to pay to be accredited. It really is dreadful. The co-operative model gives teachers more control over this.”
MU is working with established and new co-ops, along with Co-operatives UK, of which it is a federal member, to share best practice and improve governance. “We’re working together to gain a national voice,” says Ms Hanley. “I think that’s the way to do it.”