Let the Children Play campaign: Councils set to increase school music charges

'Once again, music is being used to subsidise services'
'Once again, music is being used to subsidise services'
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A SURVEY of the 24 Scottish councils currently charging for instrumental music lessons in schools has revealed that at least two are considering raising fees next year.

The revelations follow the launch of Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign, which is urging councils to scrap tuition fees for learning a musical instrument in Scottish schools.

There are currently 24 local authorities in Scotland charging between £95 and £340 a year for instrumental music lessons in schools, creating a postcode lottery system that discriminates against children from deprived backgrounds whose families cannot afford the charges.

While many councils said they would look at instrumental music tuition charges as part of their annual budget process, North Lanarkshire and Shetland Islands, which charge £150 and £140 per year respectively, said they were considering raising charges for the year 2013-14.

North Lanarkshire has launched a consultation with residents which includes the review of music instruction service delivery and charging policy. It is examining options that include raising music charges from £150 per year to £237 in 2014, then to £288 in 2015, cutting its number of full-time music instructors by four, or reducing its number of instructors by three and increasing charges to £172 in 2014 and £185 in 2015.

A council spokesman said: “A wide-ranging consultation with all our residents has been approved. Until this has been completed and the responses analysed, we cannot discuss individual savings options.”

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council, which introduced instrumental music fees in 2010 despite much local protest, also revealed it was looking at raising charges. “A proposal was submitted to councillors in February to increase charges for instrumental music tuition,” a spokesperson said. “A decision was taken to review the service at that point, and a report is due to be presented to members in the New Year.”

It is understood that one of the options being considered is raising fees from £140 to £210 a year.

Following the launch of Scotland on Sunday’s campaign, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) announced it would conduct a review into the legality of instrumental music charges in Scotland’s local councils. Mark Traynor, convenor of the EIS Musical Instrument Teachers Network, said: “We are disappointed to hear of the increase in charges from a number of local authorities especially in the light of the ongoing investigation into the legality of charging. The EIS once again stand by free opportunities for all pupils to learn.”

He added: “We are concerned that as local authority budgets are being squeezed that once again instrumental music is being used as a way of generating income to subsidise services.”

Tam Baillie, the Scottish government’s Children’s Commissioner, who is backing Scotland on Sunday’s campaign, has also criticised the charges. “Music can be an easy hit [for raising funds], but this is about developing rounded children and a rounded nation,” he said at the campaign’s launch. “Children should have equal chances. We should be positively asserting children’s rights. It’s about education and dignity.”

Meanwhile the leaders of both East Renfrewshire Council and East Dunbartonshire Council, which charge £160 and £140 per year respectively, said they would lower fees if the Scottish Government increased their budgets. “If more funds were made available from the Scottish Government then of course we would be able to review the policy and level of charging for instrumental tuition,” Councillor Jim Fletcher, leader of East Renfrewshire Council, said. “The council is currently considering its budgets and fees for the next two years and full details will be made available to the relevant committees as and when appropriate.”

Councillor Rhondda Geekie, leader of East Dunbartonshire, said: “Every year we review our charging policies but any reduction or removal of a charge would require that money would have to be found elsewhere. Councils would happily deliver free tuition if their funding was increased to cover all their costs.”

On top of the 24 authorities that charge for tuition, five also impose instrumental lesson fees on children sitting SQA music exams, despite the fact that playing a musical instrument can count for up to 60 per cent of the exam.

Two weeks ago Midlothian Council became the first local authority in Scotland to announce that it was proposing to drop charges for SQA pupils. Another two councils, Dumfries & Galloway and Highland, said they would review the charges in the coming year.