A new analysis of primary schools has found that those who attend classes in affluent areas have a far greater chance of learning to play an instrument than their counterparts in impoverished districts.
The analysis, based on official figures from Dundee City Council, reveals the impact that charging for music tuition is having on pupils across the city.
The council charges children £132 per year to learn a musical instrument, with an additional £83 for instrument hire, effectively meaning fees of more than £200 annually.
The figures, from Dundee’s 36 primary schools in March this year show a direct link between deprivation across the city and the number of children receiving instrumental music tuition. At Sidlaw View Primary, in the city’s deprived Kirkton area, where 32 per cent of the population are classed as income-deprived, only four children learn a musical instrument.
In contrast, at Forthill, in the city’s affluent Broughty Ferry, where just 1 per cent of the population is termed income-deprived, 83 children are receiving instrumental music lessons.
Dundee City Council was one of 11 local authorities which raised its charges for instrumental music tuition for the current school session and is one of 24 that charges up to £340 across Scotland in a postcode lottery system that has been highlighted by Scotland on Sunday’s Let The Children Play campaign.
The campaign, which has gained the backing of more than 20 MSPs so far, calls for free instrumental music tuition for Scottish school children.
The Dundee figures were obtained by MSP Jenny Marra, who said they showed a disturbing trend.
“These figures show that opportunities are not available to all children,” Marra said. “Educational opportunities should be blind to children’s circumstances at home, their parental income and the income status of their family. But it’s clear that opportunities for music tuition in Dundee are much more readily available in the more affluent areas.”
In other less affluent areas of Dundee such as Charleston, the number of children learning an instrument at the local primary school is just six, while Eastern Primary, also in the city’s prosperous Broughty Ferry, has 58 instrumental music pupils.
Ged Grimes, bass player for Simple Minds and a Dundee native, said he was shocked at the figures. “There is no doubt when I look at these figures that in the affluent areas in Dundee they can afford to get their kids music tuition, and in the more impoverished areas, they can’t,” he said. “I don’t think councils take a long-term view of problems, they just say, ‘We need to cut the budget, what’s a soft target – ah, music lessons’. It’s a crying shame.
“Councils need to start looking at the long-term benefits of giving music tuition to kids instead of just saying, ‘Oh, it’s costing too much, let’s cut it’. If we’re talking about a smart, successful creative Scotland this is one of the key things we need to be looking at.”
Councillor Stewart Hunter, education convener for Dundee City Council, said: “In Dundee we are keen to encourage as many young people as we can to take up a musical instrument. Therefore, tuition is free for pupils sitting an SQA examination in music and for children who qualify for free school meals or a clothing grant or tax credits if a family income is below £15,000.”
However, Mark Traynor, convener of the EIS’s teaching union’s Musical Instrument Teachers Network, said he had concerns that not all families would take up such exemptions. “When families are making decisions with financial implications they’re looking at priorities. Parents are often very proud and want to be seen to be doing their bit – a lot of them don’t want to take hand-outs,” he said.
“There are also additional costs to learning an instrument, specifically in Dundee, where they charge £83 for instrumental music hire, so it’s not just simply about the tuition costs but about the additional costs involved as well. When you introduce charging you are going to exclude certain groups, and that’s why it’s very important that we continue this campaign for free tuition for all.”
Last month, Scotland on Sunday launched Let the Children Play, which has received the backing of musicians Nicola Benedetti and Evelyn Glennie and the support of the Children’s Commisioner for Scotland, Tam Baillie. Since then, the Scottish Government has announced it is conducting a review into the legality of the charges, which in six local authorities extend to charging children sitting SQA music exams for instrumental music lessons.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has also announced that it will conduct its own review into the fees.
We want you, the Scotland on Sunday readers, to get involved in our campaign.
• Did you learn an instrument at school?
• What role did learning an instrument play in your life?
• Do you have a child learning an instrument at school?
• Are you a parent struggling to pay the fees for a child’s instrumental music tuition?
• What do you think of our politicians’ handling of the situation?
• Would you like to see free instrumental music tuition for all school children?
There are a number of ways to get involved:
• You can fill in the coupon in today’s paper and send to it to Education Secretary Michael Russell at the address published.
• You can tweet us and follow our Twitter feed @LTCPcampaign
• Comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/myscotlandonsunday
• Email your stories and your thoughts to [email protected]