Music tuition cuts plan is an affront to demcoracy – leader comment

Midlothian Council must not try to ‘sneak’ in huge cuts to music tuition in its schools.

Protesters defeated plans to cut music tuition in Midlothian in February, but they have now been resurrected (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Protesters defeated plans to cut music tuition in Midlothian in February, but they have now been resurrected (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Midlothian’s astonishing decision to resurrect plans to become the first council in Scotland to almost entirely cut music and dance tuition in schools is an affront to democracy.

After uproar over the original proposals, councillors appeared to have decided to scrap the cuts in February. Campaigners celebrated and all those who appreciate music breathed a sigh of relief.

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But now it appears the council is considering axing music tuition in schools for all those except pupils studying for a Higher or National Five exam. Clearly, officials seem to think it’s reasonable that only those pupils whose parents can afford private tuition – to enable them to acquire the knowledge needed to start those courses – should then be offered help from state schools. It’s hard to make sense of a system that means children from better-off families will benefit from free tuition that children from poor families will not be able to access – unless they teach themselves.

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The council is also considering a “full cost recovery model” which would result in fees of £675 a year for a group lesson. Midlothian currently charges parents and its own schools for music tuition, receiving an income of £171,000 in 2018/19, according to a spokesperson.

Surely this means music education is already making a substantial contribution to council coffers and should not be asked to bear further costs.

The EIS union also accused the council of trying to “sneak this in under the radar” with teachers and parents given just a few days to respond. That’s hardly enough time to raise the sort of public protests which persuaded councillors to abandon the previous planned cuts. It’s simply not good enough to behave in that way in a functioning democracy. The fees also raise questions about what subjects might be next. Is this the start of the creeping privatisation of our children’s education?

The Scotsman has sympathised with councils over the tough decisions they have been having to make because of swingeing cuts to their income. However, music tuition is not something to be privatised – if that is what is happening in Midlothian – lightly and certainly not without a proper public debate.

Councillors need to realise this and postpone a decision to enable the voices that stopped the previous plan to be raised again. Even if they are to be ignored, a hearing is the least they deserve.