Campaign boost as music fees are scrapped

ONE of Scotland’s local ­authorities has scrapped all ­instrumental music charges in schools while another has dropped plans to introduce fees for children sitting SQA music exams in a significant step forward for Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign.

In another development, no local authority in Scotland has increased instrumental music charges for the coming school year, in stark contrast to 2012 when 11, almost a third of councils, hiked the fees.

Dumfries and Galloway, which previously charged £130 for instrumental lessons and also imposed tuition fees for those sitting SQA exams, will scrap all tuition charges from August. Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire, which planned to introduce fees for SQA music students from this summer, has announced a U-turn.

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It means just three councils – Aberdeen City, Renfrewshire and Highland – now charge students to sit SQA music exams, a policy Scottish ministers have indicated they would like to see come to an end.

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ education spokesman, Councillor Douglas Chapman, said the latest developments – revealed in council budgets for the coming year – demonstrated they were “listening” to concerns over fees.

“We are very much aware of the difficult decisions councils face, however it’s reassuring that, in this financial year, music provision across Scotland is being protected,” he said. “This is in no small measure due to the campaign run by Scotland on Sunday and shows many councils have listened to the issues raised,” he said.

“Part of Cosla’s approach has been to explore how we widen and encourage musical experiences and opportunities for young people the length and breadth of Scotland and it’s not something that falls on the shoulders of schools alone.

“We have a lot of talent in our communities and the question is how we best engage that musical talent to inspire the next generation.”

The chair of Dumfries and Galloway’s education committee, Councillor Gail Macgregor, said: “The decision to remove charges will hopefully encourage uptake as well as enhancing young people’s creativity and confidence.”

Aberdeenshire said it had been keen to cut SQA charging, which it had planned to introduce this August.

Chief executive Colin Mackenzie said: “Two years ago we were faced with hard decisions to make to save money amidst a period of economic austerity the public sector has never ­before seen,” he said.

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“It is our intrinsic flexibility that has ­allowed us to make recommendations to councillors to reverse some of the savings which in the passage of time are no longer practical, sustainable nor viable for reasons such as policy, legislation or changing circumstances.”

Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign was launched last September to press for the abolition of charges to learn a musical instrument in schools.

In December, the Scottish ­Government announced it was setting up a working group tasked with “getting a grip” on the issues raised by the ­campaign, after Scotland on Sunday highlighted that children were being charged between £95 and £340 to learn to play a musical instrument in schools. Ministers also created a £1 million fund to schools to buy more instruments for use by pupils.

The campaign received backing from prominent musicians, including percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, folk singers Julie Fowlis and ­Karine Polwart, the band Frightened Rabbit and violinist Nicola Benedetti, who stated: “Learning an instrument is just as important as learning the ­fundamentals of maths and English,” and asked: “How can it possibly be separated by something as superficial as whether you can pay for your lesson or not?”

The working group includes representatives from Cosla, the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Minister for learning Alasdair Allan said: “No child should be put off taking up music because of cost, which is why the Scottish Government is providing Scottish schools with an extra £1 million to buy instruments.

“The government has also set up an Instrumental Music Group to look at how we deliver instrumental music tuition, including the question of charges for pupils receiving instrumental music tuition and sitting SQA music exams.

“The group has met three times already and has gathered evidence on variations in charging policy by local ­authorities. I look forward to their findings later this year.”

Twitter: @EmmaCowing