Many local councils have introduced – or increased – charges for group instrument lessons held in schools in recent years, with some local authorities charging parents up to £300 a year.
Now the SNP, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens have all promised to end fees, while a similar announcement is expected from the Scottish Conservatives in coming days.
The SNP said the commitment, which will form part of the party’s manifesto, aims to end the “postcode lottery” that gives some children in Scotland access to free music tuition, while others are charged for it.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney also announced that an SNP government would aim to mainstream music as a core subject in Scotland’s education system and ensure that Scotland’s school-based instrumental music teachers receive GTCS registration and accreditation.
The Scottish Government’s education committee held an inquiry into musical instrument tuition in schools in 2018. The inquiry heard evidence from people affected by the charges, including music students, who gave an impassioned plea for charges to be cut.
However, while it recognised the benefits of music lessons for all in schools, the committee said it recognised councils’ funding was stretched. It urged local authorities to “work harder to make sure that those who can afford it the least do not lose out the most” and recommended the funding for these services was re-examined by the government.
A separate government response to a legal challenge by campaigner Ralph Riddiough last year stated education authorities had an “express power” to charge fees “subject to certain limitations”, as well as in relation to cultural and social activities.
However, the response said the government was “concerned by moves” that would limit access to music tuition in schools.
Mr Swinney said: “The last year has been incredibly tough for children and young people across Scotland, but the SNP is more committed than ever to putting in place a solid plan to support recovery and increase opportunities for every child to achieve their full potential.
“Participation in music and the arts can have a hugely positive impact on the wellbeing and attainment of our children and young people, providing them with opportunities to be creative, develop their imaginations and experience inspiration and enjoyment.
"That participation can have far-reaching benefits for children and young people across the country, which is why, if re-elected, we’ll abolish all fees for music and arts education, including instrumental music tuition in schools."
He added: “This will build on our record of promoting equality of opportunity across all local authority schools and ensure that music tuition remains accessible for all.”
Lib Dems education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said: “Scotland has a rich musical heritage and I would hate to see that become the preserve of a select few.”
The Scottish Greens manifesto stated that it would “remove charges for instrumental music tuition”.
A report published in 2018 – after some councils had already introduced fees – by the Improvement Service, the national organisation tasked with driving up standards in local authorities, found 1,200 fewer children were learning an instrument in Scotland than a year earlier.