Leaders: Let the children play
WE LIVE in a country where a child’s opportunity to learn a musical instrument depends not on their natural talent and enthusiasm, but on their parents’ ability to shell out hundreds of pounds a year for tuition.
We are not talking about private tuition here. We are talking about learning an instrument in a Scottish state school. We also live in a country where, in some areas, if a child wants to sit a Standard Grade or Higher exam in music, that too will mean their parents putting their hands in their pockets to make this possible.
It should come as no surprise then, especially in the teeth of a recession where wage freezes are commonplace and work scarce, that many of this country’s poorer children are being denied the life-enhancing opportunity to learn a musical instrument, making this increasingly the preserve of the middle classes.
This is not the kind of Scotland we want to be. And this is not how our school system should work. This, in fact, is a scandal that should shame Scotland’s politicians, at both national and local level. So today this newspaper is taking a stand and demanding change. Our Scotland on Sunday campaign, Let The Children Play, will press the case for free instrumental tuition for every Scottish school pupil who wants to learn. We will expose the iniquities of state school pupils having to pay to sit exams, and of the postcode lottery that means that a few miles of distance can mean a difference of hundreds of pounds of costs to parents. And we will argue the educational, social and cultural case for bringing the joy of music-making into the lives of every young Scot.
There are those, particularly in the business world, who will tell you that with levels of literacy and numeracy in Scottish schools at such a depressing level, the less time spent tootling on a trumpet the better. And yet all expert opinion points to the educational advantages in terms of discipline and improved IQ that come from the process of mastering music notation and instrumental technique. And that is before factoring in the sense of wellbeing that accrues to learners. This is not a distraction from learning, it is an aid to learning – and it can be for so many more if the system is reformed.
Music tuition in schools is a policy that has fallen between political stools. No-one is quite sure which minister in the Scottish Government is responsible for this area of schooling. Is it the education minister, as one might at first imagine? Or is it the culture minister? Is it the responsibility of Creative Scotland? Or local councils? In fact, does the Scottish Government have any locus at all in this area, given that its “historic concordat” with local government allows councillors almost complete discretion on educational matters, along with much else? Is the Scottish Government willing to enforce minimum standards, or is it happy for councils to act whatever way they want?
These and other issues will be scrutinised by Scotland on Sunday in the weeks ahead, as we develop the case for political action at all relevant levels to address what we believe is a national disgrace. We hope you will join us in our campaign over the coming weeks, by telling us of your own frustrations with the system, and asking questions of those in power. But we also want to hear your stories of what learning a musical instrument has meant to you, of how making music can enrich not just the life of an individual but also the life of a nation. Let the children play.
NHS clarity is vital
THERE is nothing more worrying for a patient than when advice coming from health professionals contains mixed messages. When you are in the care of the NHS you want there to be no dubiety about what the experts think is wrong, and what they intend to do about it. When the subject is breast cancer, that worry is likely to be particularly acute and eminently understandable, which is why our news story today about a significant shift in the advice to Scottish women being offered breast cancer screening raises questions about the mixed messages these women are receiving.
Until now, there was an impression that screening was an unalloyed good, and that discovery of a growth known as a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) would usually lead to surgery to remove it, in case it became cancerous. This is what is now being questioned by the experts, with the suggestion that fewer women will be screened, and that an operation should not be the automatic response if an abnormality is discovered. Choice in medical treatment is a good thing, but only when the
options are clear, unambiguous and based on clinical judgment. Should all women over the age of 50 still present themselves for screening? If a DCIS is discovered, should they leave it or have it removed? Women deserve the clearest possible answers to these questions.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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