Figures gathered under the Freedom of Information Act by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and due to be presented to Holyrood’s education and culture committee on Tuesday show that councils such as Aberdeen City are making as much as £523,000 a year by forcing cash-strapped families to pay for their children to learn to play musical instruments.
The figures come as Scotland on Sunday’s Let the Children Play campaign for free instrument lessons in schools, backed by percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and violinist Nicola Benedetti, has learned that the Scottish Government is reviewing the legality of local authority tuition charges – the full extent of which were revealed in this newspaper last weekend.
A total of 24 local authorities in Scotland now charge between £95 and £340 per year for instrumental music tuition, while five local authorities – Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway, Highland, Midlothian and Renfrewshire, now charge instrumental tuition fees for children sitting SQA exams – effectively charging them to sit Standard Grade or Higher Music. A sixth local authority, Aberdeenshire, plans to phase out SQA exemptions next year.
Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, told Scotland on Sunday: “I asked Scottish Government officials to investigate the music services that local authorities offer and establish that they are acting within the bounds of the law.”
Tuesday’s committee will hear evidence from the EIS on the subject of instrumental tuition charges, alongside Sistema Scotland, which runs the Big Noise project in Stirling, and Gaelic arts tuition body Feis Rois.
Liz Smith, Education and Lifelong Learning spokesperson for the Conservatives and a committee member, said: “The extent of the charges uncovered in Scotland on Sunday last weekend need to be probed. What concerns me is the gap in the charges across the country.”
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), which represents the country’s 32 councils, has declined to appear at the committee and defended the revenue brought in by local authorities.
“Councils are required by law to present a balanced budget every year and need to look at ways of doing this and in doing so need to make difficult spending decisions,” said a spokesman.