COUNCILS are using controversial charges for musical tuition in schools to impose an “additional tax” on parents and treating them as an “easy target” to boost revenue, a teaching union official has told MSPs.
Mark Traynor, convener of the EIS instrumental music teachers’ network, claimed there would be “uproar” among parents if councils charged for subjects such as maths and English in the same way as music tuition.
Mr Traynor’s comments at Holyrood’s education and culture committee came after it emerged that pupils pay almost £3 million for musical tuition, according to figures obtained by the EIS showing disparity across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
He went on to repeat a claim by the teaching union that councils were charging for musical tuition in schools to make a profit and subsidise other cash-strapped services.
A total of 24 local authorities in Scotland charge between £95 and £340 per year for instrumental music tuition. Also, 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.
The revelations came after the launch of the Scotland on Sunday Let The Children Play campaign for free instrumental music tuition for every Scottish schoolchild.
Meanwhile, Mr Traynor attacked the charges as a policy of “who pays plays”, which he claimed was at odds with the SNP government’s Curriculum for Excellence.
He said: “If the same formula was applied to maths and English, there would be an uproar.
“We consider the charges as an additional tax. Each of these parents pays tax, and here they are having to pay out money for something they feel they are already contributing to.
“At this time, we have the Curriculum for Excellence, which has creativity at the heart of it. If we are removing young people from education, then Curriculum for Excellence is not going to work.”
Councils such as Aberdeen, Highland and Moray have said that income raised from charges is put into music budgets.
However, Mr Traynor called on Scottish ministers to come up with “more joined-up thinking” to deliver free musical tuition in all areas of the country.
He said: “There is a growing trend of charging parents and pupils. We can only assume that this is being done to subsidise other services.
“The problem is that there are budgetary constraints and huge difficulties for local authorities. They obviously see instrumental music as an easy target.”
Education secretary Michael Russell said the fees are “undesirable” but difficult to avoid during a squeeze on public finances.