Doctors urged to back free school music lessons

SENIOR doctors are to be urged to back calls for the Scottish government to provide free music lessons for primary school children because of the health benefits of learning a musical instrument.

The pleas will be made at the British Medical Association’s annual conference this month at which Dr Christine Robison, an associate specialist anaesthetist at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, will present a motion arguing that children who learn to play a musical instrument benefit from improved language skills, enhanced co-ordination and better mathematical, reading and social skills.

She will call on the BMA to lobby the Scottish government and local authorities – 23 of whom across Scotland currently charge children between £95 and £340 to learn a musical instrument – to make instrumental music lessons free for all primary school children in an attempt to make them accessible to all.

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Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign has been campaigning since last September for the Scottish government to scrap instrumental music tuition fees in schools, after exposing the high charges made by local ­authorities across Scotland. The campaign has attracted the support of musicians including Dame Evelyn Glennie and Nicola Benedetti, as well as cross-party political support.

Robison told Scotland on Sunday: “What the BMA can do is speak to Scottish government officials and bring this up as a health issue, as something that’s important when it comes to children’s health. Learning an instrument is as beneficial to children as much as having a playground to run around is. It is of equal value.”

Robison, a former paediatrician, said: “In paediatric wards in hospitals you will always find a play person and part of their job is playing music to children to calm them down in stressful medical situations. Children love music.

“It doesn’t mean that they have to become the next Nicola Benedetti – it’s not about being technically brilliant, it’s about learning a disciplinary skill, playing together to foster social skills, and all the health benefits that come with that.”

In December, following the SoS campaign, the Scottish government announced it was setting up a working group to examine the provision of instrumental music tuition, as well as creating a £1 million instrument fund for schools. Since the campaign was launched two local authorities have scrapped charges for SQA exam students, one has dropped fees altogether, and none has raised fees for the coming school year, compared to 11 who hiked charges in 2012. The working group is due to report to the Scottish government later this month.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring children have access to instrumental music opportunities and are working with Cosla to improve access.”

Twitter: @emmacowing