Councils 'could be forced to refund illegal music fees'

Scottish councils raised £4m in music tuition fees in a year – but lawyers believe they may have to pay it back

Emma Seith

Scottish councils could be forced to refund millions raised in ‘unlawful’ music fees, solicitor claims

Local authorities could be forced to reimburse millions of pounds of instrumental music tuition fees if a legal challenge results in the charges being deemed unlawful, claims a Scottish solicitor.

Ralph Riddiough, a partner at Ayr firm Kilpatrick & Walker and an amateur musician, is in the process of crowdfunding in order to pay for a judicial review, which is seeking to prove that councils are breaking the law by charging for tuition.

Mr Riddiough is arguing that when state schools teach children to play instruments they are providing education in terms of the Education Scotland Act 1980, “so fees may not be charged”.

Background: Music lessons should be free, says education secretary

Research: Music tuition denied to 100,000 children, report finds

Long read: Are we pulling the plug on music tuition?

Should Mr Riddiough reach his £15,000 total, he believes that he will win the main argument “that local authorities are breaking the law by charging fees” and that the fees “wrongly paid” will have to be reimbursed.

'Unlawful' music tuition fees

Figures compiled by the Improvement Service show that last year local authorities raised £4 million through fees. Mr Riddiough estimates that charging has been “widespread over the last decade” and “there are instances of it going quite a bit further back”.

Mr Riddiough, who so far has raised over £9,000, told Tes Scotland: “The argument would run something like this: local authorities entered into contracts with parents and raised invoices; those contracts now fail, because the courts have decreed that the fees are against the law;  therefore, the fees wrongly paid must be reimbursed.”

He added: “The most important legal cases are the ones that ask fundamental questions. Here, the question is, what is education?”

Of course, the payout – which Mr Riddiough says would be “significant”, especially for “the parents who struggled to pay”- depends upon him raising the cash and winning the case.

If he hits his total, Balfour & Manson chairman Elaine Motion is lined up to take forward the challenge.

Ms Motion secured the court ruling confirming that the UK could revoke the Brexit process unilaterally and, should the fundraiser be successful, she will assemble the same team that took the so-called Article 50 case all the way to the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

Ms Motion recently told The Herald newspaper: “We try to fight for equality. There are massive benefits to society from delivering musical tuition for children of all backgrounds. It’s extraordinary how it influences self-confidence and self-belief.

“This is an issue of public importance that affects people across the country in the same way as the named person and Wightman [Article 50] cases did.

“We’re raising the issue; we’re bringing it into the public domain so that it’s there, front and centre. Just because things are being done in a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s right.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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