Nicola Benedetti: music lesson fees are cheating pupils

VIOLIN superstar Nicola Benedetti has accused Scotland's councils of "cheating" children after a survey revealed that most schools were now charging pupils for music lessons.

A survey by teaching union EIS shows that 25 of 32 local authorities will be charging up to 400 per child by the start of the autumn term - nine more authorities than the same time last year - as a result of financial cutbacks. Only seven, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, now provide tuition for free.

Benedetti, one of Scotland's top classical musicians and a former BBC Young Musician of the Year, told Scotland on Sunday the charges demonstrated a "huge lack of foresight" on the part of councils.

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"It's a terrible thing to cheat on and take money away from," said the 23-year-old musician from West Kilbride. "Councils don't realise that music lessons and children's experiences with music are not just a nice, enjoyable added extra.

"Music can be something that could actually save money in the future. It's something that can do so much for morale and communication skills and even learning, discipline and concentration. It's a very short-sighted decision to be making."

Charges, which have increased as education cuts have started to bite, vary from as much as 400 a year for individual lessons in Aberdeen, to 130 in Dumfries and Galloway. Some councils, such as Dundee, charge 120 per year, with an additional 75 for instrument hire.

The survey was carried out by Mark Traynor, convenor of the EIS network for instrumental music teachers, who said: "Instrumental music will suffer considerably under proposed cuts. Opportunities enjoyed by our young people will be a thing of the past.

"Instrumental tuition is a core part of the school curriculum - a compulsory element of Scottish Qualification Authority music examinations - but our non-statutory position threatens our existence."

Councils said they needed to make charges to raise funds. A spokesperson for South Lanarkshire Council, which recently introduced a charge of 180 a year for music lessons, said: "The proposal for parental contributions to pupil music tuition was introduced last year as part of the council's income generation and savings targets."

Peter Boyes, cabinet member for education at Midlothian Council, which will introduce charges in August, said: "This decision was not taken lightly and has been made to try and protect our instrumental music service from further cuts, such as those imposed last year which saw a reduction in the availability of music instruction in primary schools.

"A charge of 6 per lesson was introduced for pupils wishing to participate in music tuition. Students undertaking an SQA award in music are exempt from this charge for one instrument.In addition, P3, P4 and P5 pupils who take part in the Instrumental Music Service also receive free music tuition for a period of one year."

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But Scottish Labour's culture spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson criticised both the charging regimes and the differences across the country. "All children in Scotland should have access to musical education," she said. "Music should be open to all and access should be on a level playing field, not a postcode lottery. It is an issue of concern."

Benedetti, who attended the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey and was taught by the late violinist, also criticised the quality of some music lessons in Scottish schools.

"It's an area that's very difficult to monitor and often it's people who have very little understanding that end up making the decisions for music," she said. "

"Something that can be lacking is a real knowledge of what is best for children. I'm not criticising music teachers themselves. Often their hands are tied and decisions are made above their heads. There are so many things outwith their control."

And Benedetti, who has performed for the Queen and whose 2009 album Fantasie reached the number-one spot in the classical music charts, offered her expertise to any Scottish councils who wished to use it.

"If a council came to me and asked for advice on how best to structure their music lesson time, what I think is the most effective, most exciting and most inspirational thing to learn in a music lesson, I would jump at the chance to give any advice and help I possibly could," she said.

"Bearing in mind I've been to one of the best music schools in the world and been taught by some of the greatest violin teachers in the world, I would like to help.

"But I don't think musicians are ever asked to do these things. It's a very frustrating situation."

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Scottish local council costs for instrumental music lessons:

Aberdeen: 10 per lesson

Aberdeenshire: 62 per term

Angus: 165 per year

Argyll & Bute: 129 per year

Clackmannanshire: 220 per year

Dumfries & Galloway: 135 per year

Dundee: 120 per annum and 75 instrument hire

East Ayrshire: 150 per year

East Dunbartonshire: 140 a year

East Lothian: no charging policy

East Renfrewshire: 110 per year

Edinburgh: no charging policy

Falkirk: 57.70 per term

Fife: 105 per year

Glasgow: no charging policy

Highland: 180 per year

Inverclyde: 85 per year

Midlothian: no charging policy but introducing charges from August 2011 (fees still to be set)

Moray: 258 per year

North Ayrshire: 120 per year

North Lanarkshire: 150 per year

Orkney: no charging policy

Perth & Kinross: 223 per year

Renfrewshire: 75 per year

Shetland: 160 per year

South Ayrshire: No charging policy

South Lanarkshire: 180 per year

Stirling: 90 per term

Scottish Borders: 125 per year

West Dunbartonshire: no charging policy

West Lothian: no charging policy

Western Isles: still to be decided

Source: EIS, February 2011