Music tuition ‘has to stay free’, councils told

Music tuition in Scotland’s schools should be provided free of charge, an investigation by Holyrood’s education committee has said.

Dave Gornall with his daughter, Abby, who learned violin at school along with her brother

The committee has recommended children should not have to pay fees to learn a musical instrument “in principle”, but admitted it could not force local authorities to change their policies.

Local councils were urged to review funding for music tuition and also called for an extension of Scottish Government support for programmes such as the Youth Music Initiative. The committee said those councils which felt they had to charge should particularly consider access for those pupils least able to afford it.

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The inquiry came after many of Scotland’s councils introduced fees for musical instrument tuition or increased existing fees for students, which campaigners said made it unaffordable for many pupils.

High-profile musicians including violinist Nicola Benedetti and Mick Cooke, trumpet player in indie band Belle and Sebastian, joined forces to campaign against the practice, which they said could have catastrophic consequences for Scotland’s music scene.

The inquiry last year heard evidence from people affected by the charges, including music students who gave an impassioned plea for charges to be cut. One local authority had seen nearly 70 per cent of pupils receiving music tuition dropping out following the introduction of charges. Clackmannanshire council revealed in June that it was to double the cost of lessons to £524 a year – or £17.50 per half-hour class.

Clare Adamson MSP, convenor of the education committee, said: “There is little doubt about the positive benefits that music can have on us as individuals, as communities and indeed to the wider Scottish culture and economy.

“However, for too many young people these opportunities are being lost because of increasingly unaffordable fees. This is why our committee believes in the principle that music tuition should be free.

“However, we recognise that in many local authorities, charging for music tuition is a reality and a decision which will not have been made lightly. This does not mean there is nothing to be done.

“Local authorities must work harder to make sure that those who can afford it the least do not lose out the most. This is why we have recommended that the funding for these services is re-examined and that more is done to extend concessions and discounts where possible.”

Campaigner Ralph Riddiough, who presented a petition to Parliament on the issues with almost 10,000 signatures, said: “It is encouraging to have the support from the committee, although it doesn’t solve the problem.”