East Lothian plans £280-a-year charge for music tuition

The decision affects 1,210 pupils. Picture: John Wallace
The decision affects 1,210 pupils. Picture: John Wallace
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East Lothian looks set to become the latest council to charge for music lessons, with plans unveiled for a £280 annual fee for children learning instruments in the area from the start of the new school year.

This comes as young musicians and teachers are planning to create a “pop-up orchestra” on Tuesday in Glasgow’s George Square, to push for politicians to make instrument tuition free across Scotland.

In minutes published ahead of a meeting of East Lothian Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, the authority’s chief executive recommended that councillors should: “Introduce a contributory charge of £280 per annum towards the costs of providing Instrumental Music Instruction to pupils in receipt of the service from August 2018.”

A total of 1,210 pupils from P4 to S6 learn an instrument in East Lothian for free. The council admitted that it expects a 16 per cent fall in the number of pupils if it introduces fees.

The council consulted headteachers during budget proposals last year and found that there was an “overarching preference” within the general public to charge rather than cut services. It hopes it will save £357,000 a year after imposing the charges.

John Wallace, the chair of the Scottish Government’s Music Education Partnership Group (MEPG) and the former head of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said that the charges were becoming inevitable for councils trying to maintain music lessons.

“The only way they seem to be able to do this at the moment is through charging,” he said.

Last month, West Lothian Council proposed to cut strings and percussion tuition rather than charge pupils, but after a consultation with families, it decided to introduce a £354 a year fee instead.

East Lothian said it would introduce a concessionary rate of £240 for any sibling of a full fee-paying pupil, while, as under Scottish Government regulations, free tuition for pupils using their tutored instrument towards an SQA qualification at secondary school would remain.

There would also be free tuition for pupils who are in receipt of free school meals or are looked after within the East Lothian Council care system.

Currently, a total of 23 of the 32 councils now bill parents for musical instrument lessons.