How to form a co-op: practical guide launches for music teachers

A guide to forming co-operatives for music teachers has been launched by the Musician’s Union (MU). Altogether Now, authored by David Barnard (MU member and founder of Swindon...

A guide to forming co-operatives for music teachers has been launched by the Musician’s Union (MU).

Altogether Now, authored by David Barnard (MU member and founder of Swindon Music Co-op), provides an overview of the co-operative model, and demonstrates how music teachers can apply it. The guide also looks at key issues, case studies and presents a week-by-week guide to forming a co-operative.

It is estimated that on the back of local education authority cuts and zero-hour contracts, between a quarter and a third of a 12,000-strong workforce of music instrument teachers in the UK lost their jobs between 2009 and 2015. MU, which represents more than 30,000 musicians, is now encouraging teachers to band together in a bid to save the profession.

In an interview with Co-operative News last year, Fran Hanley, the MU’s music education official, said funding for all young people’s music services in England had either been restricted or was about to be restricted.

“While limited funding still comes from parents and central government, in many cases council funding had stopped completely,” she said.

In a report published in March, titled The National Plan for Music Education: The Impact on the Workforce, MU reported that “local authorities increasingly see no need to provide music services”, and that consequently, “instrumental teaching is being downgraded and the professionalism of the workforce undermined”.

The report highlighted the need to have “an open and honest discussion [and] to look at different models of music service”, such as co-operatives, which could be a viable alternative to the current system.

“Co-operatives allow teachers, who have lost their jobs working for local authority music services, to continue teaching together in an environment that values every contribution and encourages the sharing of expertise,” said John Smith, general secretary at MU, in his introduction to Altogether Now.

“Co-operatives also empower teachers to have a greater control over their working lives. They are a progressive option and provide a sense of purpose and unity as an alternative to fragmentation, which can lead to teachers working in isolation and in competition with one another.”

The union has also published supporting documentation in the form of template legal documents put together by Anthony Collins Solicitors, specialists in co-operative law.

“Many musical instrument teachers will turn to the co-operative model out of necessity. But in it they will find a tried and tested approach that has brought good jobs and business performance to people across the UK, indeed around the world, for decades,” said Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operative UK, which helped develop the guide. 

“As owners of their co-op business, the teachers themselves will decide their own future. And that is a future which will best serve the needs of our next generation of gifted musicians.”

MU has already supported the formation of new music teacher co-operatives in Milton Keynes, Denbighshire, the Isle of Wight and Wiltshire, and these have joined the longer established co-operatives in Swindon, Newcastle and North East Lincolnshire. It was through this work that MU developed Altogether Now.

The guide was officially launched at parliament by the MU and Co-operatives UK in September, at an initiative that brought together MPs, policy makers, teachers and funders to celebrate the pioneering work of music teachers who have formed co-operatives and to learn more about the work of MU.

Read the full guide online.

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