Five vital steps on the way to free music lessons in schools
TODAY, Scotland on Sunday publishes its five-point “road map” towards giving children across Scotland free instrumental music lessons.
In the past three weeks, we have heard from academics, musicians, teachers, parents and children about the huge benefits of learning a musical instrument. We have gathered support for our campaign from world-famous Scottish musicians including Nicola Benedetti and Evelyn Glennie, from the Musicians’ Union and the Educational Institute of Scotland, from the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland and from MSPs. Most importantly, we have been overwhelmed by the support from you, our readers. Now it is time for action. Here is our plan to move in stages towards ending the postcode lottery on instrumental tuition fees, and to Let The Children Play.
1 An immediate end to tuition charges for students sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) music exams
Most of Scotland’s councils charge students for music lessons, but five have gone further by imposing fees even when students are being taught on the course that leads to an SQA Standard Grade or Higher music exam. A sixth plans to introduce charges next year. This would be unthinkable for pupils taking courses leading to SQA English or Maths exams. The EIS teaching union has questioned the legal position of such charges and the Scottish Government has launched a review of their legality. Irrespective of the legal status, these charges are unfair, discriminatory and in breach of the aims of the National Curriculum for Excellence. As a first step, they should be withdrawn now.
2 A national government policy for instrumental music tuition
Without a national policy, each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities will continue to create its own charging policies on instrumental tuition. It is this lack of cohesion across the country that has led to the current postcode lottery system where children are charged between £95 and £340 a year for music lessons depending on where they live, while some receive lessons free. A national policy must be outlined and enforced across the country that ensures that treatment of children is consistent, fair and equitable. There must also be safeguards to ensure local authorities do not reduce the number of children receiving lessons or the number of teachers, as they move towards making tuition free.
3 The education minister to take on direct responsibility and accountability for instrumental music tuition
Currently, no-one is taking responsibility for this issue at government level. The Youth Music Initiative run by Creative Scotland, which provides limited funds for primary level children to try out music lessons, comes under the remit of culture minister Fiona Hyslop. But it was learning minister Alasdair Allan who launched a review into the SQA charges. Neither take full responsibility for instrumental music tuition. Music is an academic subject and part of the National Curriculum for Excellence. For this reason, responsibility and accountability for this issue should be taken by Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell.
4 A commitment to reduce instrument hire costs and the establishment of an instrument fund
Some local authorities provide free instrument hire to children, while others charge up to £83 to hire an instrument on top of significant lesson charges. A commitment must again be made at national level to prevent instrument hire becoming a hidden additional cost. An instrument fund for children who have learned instruments to a certain standard and whose families need help purchasing their own instrument should also be considered.
5 A government commitment to end tuition fees for instrumental music lessons
The four previous steps must lead to a commitment at government level to end these charges, and ensure safeguards are in place so that the number of children who are able to learn is not reduced. Charging for instrumental music tuition contravenes the new Children’s Bill, shortly to be introduced in Scotland, which will demand that “children can access all the opportunities and support that they need”. As Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner points out today, charging may also breach the UN’s Convention on the Rights of a Child. Charges, as currently applied, are unfair, discriminatory and are denying many children an opportunity not just to learn an instrument but to experience the many benefits that go alongside it. Instead we should let the children play.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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