Music tuition battle strikes a chord on exams

Music tuition is an integral part of SQA examinations. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Music tuition is an integral part of SQA examinations. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Share this article
Have your say

MIDLOTHIAN Council plans to drop charges for instrumental music lessons for children sitting SQA exams and two other councils are reviewing their charges following the launch last month of Scotland on Sunday’s campaign for free music tuition in schools.

The moves come as a former senior chief inspector of education in Scotland branded the charges for instrument lessons “absolutely disgraceful” and questioned their legality.

Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign issued a five-step roadmap ­towards free music tuition – the first of which was to drop charges for children sitting SQA exams. The Scottish Government afterwards said it would conduct a review into the legality of tuition fees, which at SQA level effectively charges children to sit exams.

Our survey of the five local authorities that charge children sitting SQA exams for instrumental tuition, as well as a sixth, which plans to intro­duce charging next year, revealed Midlothian proposes to scrap charges at SQA level; Highland Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council said they were reviewing the fees.

Councillor Lisa Beattie, cabinet member for education at Midlothian, said: “In opposition, we did everything we could to protect access to ­music tuition for as many children as possible and this continues to be a priority. Lessons are highly subsidised and the current set-up in Midlothian allows children from lower income families to access instrumental music lessons. However, we also intend to come back to Council with a proposal to remove charges for music instruction for pupils who are taking SQA music courses.”

Of the other three councils, Aberdeenshire, which will introduce SQA charges next year, and Renfrewshire have no plans to change their policies. Aberdeen, which charges the highest fees, did not respond.

The current postcode lottery system across Scotland’s local authorities means 24 out of 32 councils charge for instrumental music lessons in schools. Costs range from £95 in Inverclyde to £340 in Aberdeen.

Yesterday, a former senior chief inspector of education in Scotland, who declined to be named, said: “As soon as a child signs up to a certificate course it’s absolutely not on to charge. I would have thought that was not legal. If I had still been in the Inspectorate I would have made sure we would have said to the Scottish Government – you have to tell these local authorities to stop this.”

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) is conducting its own review into the charges.

Instrumental performance counts for up to 60 per cent of SQA music exams. Children must be able to play two musical instruments to Associated Board Grade Three level or above. Although schools make some provision for teaching “classroom instruments” such as recorder, glockenspiel and keyboard in class music lessons, children learning an instrument from an instrumental music teacher, in a group or in individual lessons, must pay, even though that work makes up a significant portion of the practical part of exams.

“The reality is the Scottish Qualifications Authority offers instruments outwith the classroom as part of the SQA exam, therefore the instrumental music service, which provides that service and is provided by the local authority, should be free,” said Mark Traynor, head of the Educational Institute of Scotland’s instrumental music teachers network.

“If a pupil plays the trumpet, they can’t expect a classroom teacher to pick that up and start teaching them, so it is provided by the instrumental music service, so we can get them through that part of the exam.”

Some local authorities charging for SQAs defended their position. Councillor Mark Macmillan, leader of Renfrewshire Council, said: “Music tuition is an enhancement to the core curriculum and it is accessed by a relatively small number of pupils. It is appropriate that those who receive this additional tuition contribute to the costs of the provision.”

Councillor Drew Hendry, leader of Highland Council, added: “The council offers fees exemption which allows access to pupils from a wide variety of backgrounds and there is no evidence to suggest pupils are being disadvantaged or excluded from pursuing SQA qualifications in which they opt to use an instrument taught under the auspices of our Instrumental Tuition Service.”

Scotland on Sunday’s five point plan towards ending instrumental tuition fees:

1 An immediate end to tuition charges for students sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) music exams

2 A national government policy for instrumental music tuition

3 The education minister to take on direct responsibility and accountability for instrumental music tuition

4 A commitment to reduce instrument hire costs and the establishment of an instrument fund

5 A government commitment to end tuition fees for instrumental music lessons in schools

Council by council: How they responded:

Cllr Lisa Beattie, SNP, cabinet member for education, Midlothian Council: “We intend to come back to council with a proposal to remove charges for music instruction for pupils who are taking SQA music courses.”

Cllr Barney Crockett, Labour, leader of Aberdeen City Council: Refused to comment.

Cllr Drew Hendry, SNP, leader of Highland Council: “We are currently conducting a comprehensive budget consultation exercise. A major part of the budget review will cover education, which will include, amongst other important subjects, music tuition.”

Cllr Ivor Hyslop, Scottish Conservative & Unionist, leader of Dumfries & Galloway Council: “The administration is looking at the issue of charges for instrumental instruction, particularly for SQA students, as part of our budget process. We have not completed that process yet, but the administration plans to publish its budget proposals in December.”

Cllr Jim Gifford, Scottish Conservative & Unionist, Leader of Aberdeenshire Council: “Aberdeenshire agreed in March 2011 that pupils receiving tuition as part of Standard Grade SQA studies would no longer be exempt from fees as of August 2012. We review all policies regularly.”

Cllr Mark Macmillan, Labour, Leader of Renfrewshire Council: “All services are being reviewed. Renfrewshire is prioritising education and still heavily subsidising the cost of tuition.”