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SIPS Education: Enriching young lives with the power of music

Case study

21st May 2024
Co-op development
An orchestra of young people playing musical instruments

Discover the West Midlands service provider whose co‑operative values, principles and structure are instrumental to its mission of making life better for young people. 

SIPS Education is an award‑winning co‑op that provides a range of services to schools in Sandwell, the Black Country and the West Midlands. “We were spun out of the local authority in 2013 when it wanted to find an alternative way to deliver services to schools,” said SIPS Chief Executive Brian Cape.  

Amongst its range of vital services that help keep schools well‑run and pupils fed and safe is its Music and Arts provision.  

Supported by an Arts Council England grant, every year, SIPS helps more than 8,000 students make music. “We employ around 35 music teachers to go directly into schools and teach kids how to play instruments.”

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It’s about enriching children’s lives through the power of music. We see first‑hand that children love learning an instrument, singing and participating in music lessons at school.
– Brian Cape, Chief Executive of SIPS Education
Children playing musical instruments at a Christmas concert

SIPS offers whole‑class tuition and tuition for small groups, after‑school clubs and school orchestras. They provide National Curriculum Music tuition and short‑term workshops and projects to support creative learning. 

“We’ve got more than 8,000 instruments that we loan for free to students. Many kids in the borough are getting access to music tuition and the ability to learn that they wouldn’t have access to if it wasn’t for us.

“And because we’re a lean, agile, not-for-profit co-operative, we can focus on things like endangered instruments – which include the oboe, bassoon and viola. They’re on the endangered list because not many people are playing or learning them.” 

According to Brian, SIPS is an operationally lean and agile business thanks to a combination of commercial thinking and education sector expertise – and its co‑operative structure and ethos. 

“We’re different from local authorities and traditional companies because the responsiveness of how we operate isn’t dictated to by politics, shareholders or several voices further up the chain. What we do have is a very supportive board that trust us to make good decisions and we can move on them quickly.”

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For what we do, being a co‑operative is the best of both worlds – we have a public service heart. We’re all working for schools and striving to do the right thing. And we also have a commercial head which means we can run the business effectively and efficiently.
– Brian Cape, SIPS Education

“It also enables us to get involved with other programmes. We’re part of the Sandwell Cultural Educational Partnership, which brings together people from the arts to seek innovative ways to enrich young people’s lives. In a different structure, we may not have the flexibility to do that.” 

With member schools and a range of local stakeholders on the board, SIPS prides itself on listening to the establishments it serves. 

“As well as ensuring good governance, the remit of our board is to work with local learning communities to better understand what their needs are and where we can fill that gap. So there’s a stakeholder relationship and advocacy you wouldn’t get from a B2B relationship in the private sector,” said Brian. 

“It’s an interesting dynamic. We do genuinely listen. We survey them and work to resolve challenges or issues. We strive to be the best we can be, always aligned with our co‑op values and principles of openness, honesty and communication.” 

Find out more

SIPS Education – Website | Facebook | X | LinkedIn | Instagram 

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