Free music lessons face '˜death by 1,000 cuts'

A Holyrood move to change the law and ensure all pupils in Scottish state schools have the right to free music tuition has been launched.

Music tuition fees have been rising as councils face hundreds of millions of pounds being axed from their budgets. Picture: Ian Georgeson

MSPs have been told there is a “groundswell” of support among parents and communities for instrument lessons, amid concerns over soaring fees and cuts to music teacher numbers.

Music tuition in schools is facing “death by a thousand cuts”, a Holyrood petition warns, with the most recent reductions having left its future at a “tipping point”.

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Paolo Nutini, Nicola Benedetti and Dame Evelyn Glennie are among the Scottish musicians who have voiced concerns.

Mike Riddiough, from Ayr, who plays in a brass band, has been campaigning against charging in South Ayrshire and now wants free music tuition protected in statute across Scotland.

He has lodged the petition calling on the Scottish Government to change the law to ensure instrument lessons are available “as of right”.

“Private musical instrument lessons, that are so beneficial, are generally out of reach. Music education in state schools should be free,” he states.

“It is right that the best educational opportunities should be available to all children in Scotland, with no barriers such as fees create. A change in the law is overdue.”

More than two-thirds of Scotland’s 32 councils charge for music tuition and fees have been rising in recent years as town halls seek to cope with hundreds of millions of pounds being axed from their budgets.

Clackmannanshire recently voted to double the cost of music tuition. With some exceptions, parents will now pay £524 a year. Riddiough has been campaigning in South Ayrshire against plans to start charging £200 a year for music tuition.

The EIS teaching union has also expressed concern about a dramatic fall in the number of music teachers – from 1,100 to 640 over the past decade.

Councils are not obliged to provide musical tuition, though all youngsters are currently guaranteed specialist music tuition by primary five through the Youth Music Initiative funded to the tune of £109 million over the past decade by Scottish ministers.