Cllr Alison Dickie: Thank you for the free music – just not Abba

I have no idea why I quote Abba in this article about free instrumental music tuition, but here we go: “Thank you for the music, who can live without it, what would life be.”

Cllr Alison Dickie is education vice-convener at Edinburgh City Council

Now breathe. This will jar with some of you, but I’ve never been thankful for Abba’s music! I’ve long imagined myself as a rock chick, and probably since my early teenage years when I was forced to play Hasta Manana – many times – in the folk group at school. I know!

But thankful for music I am, and especially the free instrumental music tuition that I’m proud to say continues in Edinburgh’s schools. The largest service in Scotland, with more than 80 instructors, it helps grow Scotland’s talent and contributes to the wonderful world of music and the arts out there.

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It’s no secret that difficult budget decisions are being made in these challenging financial times, but it’s important that we consider their long-term impact and what life would then be.

Music, despite being within the core expressive arts curriculum, can be viewed as inferior to the ‘more academic’ subjects, and the non-statutory instrumental music service makes it an easy target. I think back to last year’s budget and the music school, a centre of excellence that should have been celebrated as such.

Scotland has music and creativity in its soul, and our rich cultural heritage needs a future. Charging stifles the potential of that future, being a bill too many for some and stigmatising for others. Instead, we need to see free tuition and the wider music curriculum as an investment and equally value those pathways.

Attend our Childline, Fanfare and Resonate Concerts and you’ll see the talent encouraged across our schools. Here, the combined support of our instrumental music instructors and Scottish Government funded Youth Music Initiative projects will take your breath away. Add to this our city wide orchestras and fantastic school bands.

In my own classrooms, music was embedded across learning, and IMS pupils encouraged to use their skills in classroom life. Confidence, teamwork, health and wellbeing and wider achievements were all boosted in the process.

Then there was my after school guitar club (the folk group didn’t last long, but the guitar playing continued!) which plugged an instrumental gap to spark wider interest, and the sense of pride on all of our faces when they got to the point of confidently rocking out their favourite songs.

In a recent report, the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee concluded that they too were thankful for the free music, even citing examples about how life could be when charging was introduced, specifically West Lothian, which suffered a drastic reduction in participation.

There is, though, still work to do, such as further increasing the uptake of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and closer working relationships between the instrumental and class teachers to maximise interest and wider learning.

In the interim, I’ll continue to shout that we can’t live without free music, while secretly hoping that my Scottish Government colleagues will rock up to help us keep it going!

Cllr Alison Dickie is education vice-convener at Edinburgh City Council.