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A question of membership

Many schools have formed or joined co-operative trusts in recent years. The idea of ‘membership’ which is a key part of any co-operative is, of course, quite a new idea for schools. We were recently asked the following question:

“As part of our commitment as a co-operative school, is it essential that the five member groups formally join through the completion of paperwork and an agreed membership fee? Or, as long as we are engaged and proactive in the inclusion of all groups within our school decisions, events, enrichments etc. does that in itself suggests the collaboration taking place?”

The answer is that, ideally, you should be doing both!

If you check out the Articles of Association of your Trust you will find a couple of clause along the following lines:

8             Guarantee

Every member promises, if the Trust is wound up while they remain a member, or within 12 months after they cease to be a Member, to pay up to £1 towards the costs of winding up, towards adjusting the rights of the contributories amongst themselves and towards discharging the liabilities incurred by the Trust while they were a member.

10          Membership

10.1      The Trust must maintain a register of members.

10.2      The subscribers to the Memorandum are the first members of the Trust.

10.3      Subject to any restrictions imposed by the Education Acts, membership of the Trust is open to any other individuals or organisations interested in promoting the Objects who:

10.3.1          qualify for membership of one of the constituencies specified below;

10.3.2          consent in writing to become a member and to be bound by the provisions of these Articles of Association, either personally or (in the case of an organisation) through an authorised representative, by completing an application to become a member in a form to be specified by the Trustees and are approved by the Trustees.

10.4      The Trust will have the following constituencies of members:

10.4.1          a learners constituency, open to learners currently registered at any of the Schools, or to any other person currently registered for the purposes of learning at any of the Schools;

10.4.2          a parents and carers constituency, open to any parent or individuals exercising parental responsibility of a learner currently registered at any of the Schools;

10.4.3          a staff constituency, open to any person employed by or whose normal place of work is at any of the Schools;

10.4.4          a local community constituency, open to any person [who lives or works within [ ] miles of any of the Schools and,] in the absolute discretion of the Trustees, the Trustees believe has a legitimate interest in any of the Schools;

10.4.5          a community organisations constituency, open to any organisation, whether statutory, charitable, voluntary, or trading for social or commercial purposes, which in the absolute discretion of the Trustees has a legitimate interest in any of the Schools; and

10.4.6          an Alumni constituency, open to anyone who was at any time a learner registered at any of the Schools.

10.5      In relation to constituencies:

10.5.1          no person may be a member of more than one constituency;

10.5.2          a person eligible to be a member of the staff constituency may not be a member of any other constituency;

10.5.3          the decision about the constituency of which a person is to be a member shall be decided by the Trustees, who may issue guidelines about constituency membership;

10.5.4          the Trustees may sub-divide any of the constituencies into two or more constituencies, on such basis as they consider to be appropriate.

10.6      Membership of the Trust is terminated if the member concerned:

10.6.1          gives written notice of resignation to the Trust;

10.6.2          dies or (in the case of an organisation) ceases to exist;

10.6.3          ceases to be entitled to be a member under these Articles of Association; or

10.6.4          is removed from membership by resolution of the Trustees on the ground that in their reasonable opinion the member’s continued membership is harmful to the Trust. The Trustees may only pass such a resolution after notifying the member in writing and considering the matter in the light of any written representations which the member concerned puts forward within 14 clear days after receiving notice.

10.7      Membership of the Trust is not transferable.

So you will see that there are quite specific requirements about how membership is to be administered.

The normal way in which they ‘guarantee’ is ensured is by collecting a £1 membership from people when they join and holding this on the balance sheet. Some Trusts offer membership at different rates – eg 10p for students. Some offer free membership but this is legally dubious.

People must opt in – they must actively say that they want to be members, you can’t have a blanket/automatic membership policy – this would contravene the first co-operative principle relating to open and voluntary membership:

1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

Elsewhere in the Articles of Association you will find reference to the democratic rights of members.

Obviously a membership scheme requires a bit of work to set up, to recruit to, and to engage members. In the long term, however, this can prove extremely worthwhile in many ways. It isn’t always as difficult as you might imagine. In research undertaken a few years ago by the Co-operative College the main reason people gave for not being members of a co-operative was that no-one had ever asked them to join!

At the same time as this formal requirement, the school is committed to operate in accordance with the co-operative values and principles (see www.co-op.ac.uk/about/values-and-principles/#.Vs3DPvmLSUk) by the articles of the Trust:

4             It is intended that:

4.1         the curriculum and ethos of the Schools will place an emphasis on, and include a commitment to students learning about, the Values, with the aim of encouraging all learners to become better citizens, not only while they are learners but during the rest of their lives;

Obviously this is open to interpretation but we believe that one aspect of this is the “active engagement and proactive in the inclusion of all groups within our school decisions, events, enrichments etc.”

Of course, it also goes further and suggests that you will encourage self-help and self-responsibility, adopt equitable and egalitarian practices, and engage in activities which demonstration solidarity (with other co-operatives, and those in need). Clearly these are things which you are probably already embedding into the daily life of your school. If so then this culture and ethos should provide a good springboard from which to launch a more formal membership scheme and a stakeholder Forum if you haven’t done do.

The Co-operative College offers training workshops and consultancy to help you get your membership scheme designed and launched. If you would like further details please contact nina@co-op.ac.uk.

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