Scottish council reignites plans to cut music tuition in schools

Midlothian said it wants to cut music tuition in schools.
Midlothian said it wants to cut music tuition in schools.
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Midlothian council has reignited proposals to become the first council entirely cut provision of music and dance tuition in schools from next year - just months after they were scrapped following widespread opposition.

The new proposals to plug a budget shortfall would see the number of music teachers employed by the council cut by eight full time equivalent posts to just three and music tuition axed for all except those pupils studying for an Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exam in music - such as a Higher or National Five - who would be taught through an arms-length hub.

Alternatively, the council said, it could move to a "full cost recovery model", which would see fees hiked to £675 a year for a group lesson - more than many private instrumental lessons.

READ MORE: Midlothian Council set to be first in Scotland to axe school music tuition

Under the first option, the council would create an arms-length "music collaborative" through which pupils could pay fees for music tuition privately following a model already used in England and Wales. It is not currently clear whether those classes could be held during school time or on school premises.

Under any of the proposals, additional tuition in dance and drama would also be affected.

In a document due to be put before the full council next Tuesday, the plans said the move was necessary to due a budget shortfall and because the number of pupils taking music lessons had fallen by 39 per cent in the past year following the introduction of fees a year ago. The council increased the cost of music lessons last year, which is likely to have impacted on the number of children taking lessons.

Midlothian - which charges fees of £205.50 a year for instrument tuition in primary and high schools, is the only council in Scotland to charge individual schools £700 a year fees for instrumental lessons for youngsters sitting SQA examinations in music, who under Scottish Government regulations, must not have to pay for their own tuition. In other areas, it is paid straight out of council funds rather than schools' budgets.

The council papers said that income received was £165,000 from parents and £290,000 from recharging schools for pupils undertaking SQA exams - making a total of £455,000. However, it argued that more cuts were necessary for the service to run "within budget" at £211,000.

Kirk Richardson, convenor of the EIS Instrumental Teachers Network, said the union had called a crisis meeting with Midlothian Council on Wednesday after hearing rumours about the proposals. Teachers and parents now only have five days to contest the proposals. Last year, when plans were unveiled to axe tuition entirely, musicians mobilised flash mobs and protests outside of the City Chambers.

He said: "It looks like they were trying to sneak this in under the radar. It is quite incredible."

He said that the council had not given time for increases in tuition fees to take effect.

He said: "There will always be people who don't want to pay at all and that will see a reduction in the number of pupils, then gradually, there will be others who take their place. They haven't given this time to bed in - it is almost as if they are setting it up to fail. The full cost recovery method will not work - people are just not going to pay that kind of money for a group lesson."

He added: "You wouldn't teach PE without physical movement, or maths without arithmetic, so I don't understand how they think music can be taught without instruments. You can't learn an instrument starting at SQA level - the process needs to have begun years before that."

A spokeswoman for Midlothian Council said: "The number of pupils taking instrumental music tuition is down 39 per cent this year and our budget shortfall in 2018/19 was £225,000. The current way of delivering this service is therefore not financially viable, especially given the council as a whole is facing a budget shortfall of £4.6m in the next financial year (2020/21) rising to £18.8m in 2022/23.

“In the interests of the public pound, we are, therefore, looking at offering creative arts in a different way in coming years while addressing this year’s shortfall by reviewing the number of music instructors required in the current financial year."

She added: “Officers have put forward a number of options to save £200,000 over three years from 2021/22, such as creating a ‘music collaborative’. This would be run outwith the council. Recent consultations with local people suggest there would be an appetite for this potential solution.”