Crowdfunding bid launched for legal challenge against instrument tuition fees

Nicolas Benedetti has joined the campaign against musical instrument tuition fees in Scotland's schools.
Nicolas Benedetti has joined the campaign against musical instrument tuition fees in Scotland's schools.
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A crowdfunding bid has been launched to pay for a judicial review of the lawfulness of fees for musical instrument tuition in Scotland's state schools.

Ralph Riddiough, a community musician from Ayrshire, plans to launch the legal challenge against local authorities, who he says are breaking the law that requires state schools to provide education without charging fees.

Mr Riddiough, who last year gathered almost 10,000 signatures on a petition to urge the Scottish Government to change the law surrounding musical instrument tuition fees, hopes to raise £15,000 to pay for the challenge. High profile musicians including Glasgow violinist Nicola Benedetti have joined the campaign.

Parents and young musicians have campaigned against local authority cuts for the past year. Some councils have raised existing tuition fees for instruments - some to as high as £524 a year - while others have introduced them for the first time or started charging for the hire of local authority instruments. Others, like Midlothian, unveiled plans to axe instrument tuition entirely for those not taking a Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exam in the subject - but made a u-turn following strong opposition.

Mr Riddiough said: "Fees in state schools are wrong. They are divisive. They exclude some children. Children who have access to the specialist tuition in small groups will arrive in 4th year at secondary school with a huge advantage over children who have been priced out. SQA music exams assess competence in two musical instruments. This tuition needs to start in primary school. We have known this in Scotland for decades."

It emerged in November that 1,200 fewer children were learning an instrument in Scotland than a year earlier. According to figures from the Improvement Service, the national organisation tasked with driving up standards in local authorities, there were 60,326 pupils learning an instrument in Scotland in 2017/18, down from 61,615 the previous year.

Mr Riddiough added that Section 3 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states that local authorities shall not charge fees for the provision of education. In January, an investigation by Holyrood’s education committee stated that music tuition in Scotland’s schools should be provided free of charge. It recommended children should not have to pay fees to learn a musical instrument “in principle”, but admitted it could not force local authorities to change their policies.

He said: "Teaching children to play musical instruments is education, and this was confirmed by the report of the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee issued in January 2019, which also recommended that these lessons be provided without levying fees. It is not right that an important education service is allowed to fall through the cracks of our public finances. There is now no option but to invoke the judgement of the courts to protect this education service."

The crowdfunder is available here at: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/changethetune/

Read more: Music education has to stay free, councils told