A SCOTLAND on Sunday campaign has chalked up a major victory by winning £1 million of Scottish Government money to buy thousands of musical instrument for Scottish schools.
In a breakthrough for our Let The Children Play campaign, ministers have also signalled they want to see the end of tuition fees for thousands of schoolchildren sitting SQA exams in music.
This week ministers at Holyrood will announce the setting up of a working group to seek ways of scrapping the fees, which in some parts of Scotland cost families £340 a year.
These were key demands in Scotland on Sunday’s campaign, which has been running since September and has attracted the support of classical violinist Nicola Benedetti and a glittering array of Scottish musical talent. Its ultimate aim is the scrapping of all tuition fees for musical instrument tuition in Scottish schools.
The working group, which will include the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) will be tasked with “getting a grip” on the issues raised by Let The Children Play.
Scotland on Sunday understands ministers firmly believe charging pupils doing exam courses is not the right way forward, and that the government is hopeful a solution can be found for making this unnecessary. Five local authorities currently charge children tuition fees while sitting SQA music exams with a sixth due to introduce charges next year.
A senior government source said: “The government wants to get a grip on this important issue as there is agreement that this is the kind of society we want to create.” A chairman for the new group is expected to be announced this week with a remit to bring “coherence” to the different delivery of music tuition and charges across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
At the moment, 24 out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities charge between £95 and £340 a year for instrumental music lessons in schools, creating a postcode lottery that discriminates against children from deprived backgrounds. Alasdair Allan, the minister for learning, said: “We believe every child should have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument as part of the broad general education they are entitled to under Curriculum for Excellence.
“There are too many children being put off taking up music because of the cost of the instrument. I have asked for two clear courses of action to be taken to fix this.
“The Scottish Government will provide Scottish schools with an extra £1m to buy musical instruments.
“And because the belief that any young person who wants to learn music can is shared across the political parties and local government, I have asked that people come together in a new Instrumental Music Group to look at how we deliver music tuition, including the question of charges for pupils sitting SQA music exams.
“We believe the shared ambitions and goodwill that exist will result in a solution.”
Benedetti, who has been a vocal supporter of the SoS campaign from the start, said last night: “It’s a brilliant step and a good day for the arts in Scotland. It makes me very proud to be Scottish, because your paper has prioritised this issue and gone for it seriously with energy and dedication. That has now been met with a reaction and a commitment to do something about it. It’s just so exciting. I’m delighted.”
Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, said: “I am more than relieved and delighted by the positive result that has been achieved by Scotland on Sunday’s campaign. This is an opportunity to regain and exceed the standards of music instrumental teaching that has been so prevalent throughout Scotland in the past.”
Former Labour leader Iain Gray, who led a debate in the Scottish Parliament in support of the campaign, said: “This is very welcome movement from the minister, at least acknowledging that there is an issue to be addressed.”
However, he argued that the issue of charging pupils sitting SQA exams should be resolved immediately. “The case for free tuition for SQA pupils is unanswerable, and really does not need any working group to look at it.”