Instrumental tuition still needs key changes

The Scots have been accused in the past of thinking that devolution is about getting things for free. And it would appear that with free higher education, personal care for the elderly, prescriptions and eye tests in the bag, we're gunning for more - free music tuition for schoolchildren.

The main complaint after the publication of the report by the Scottish government's instrumental music group last month was that it did not recommend that local councils should scrap charges.

At present, #163;4 million a year is raised by asking parents to pay for their children to play an instrument, a sum that covers roughly 20 per cent of the #163;27 million-plus that it costs to provide instrumental music tuition across the country.

However, in the current climate, when councils struggle to give their schools enough to cover the basics, such as jotters or photocopying, is it realistic - or wise - to make more demands?

Eight councils, though, already do provide music tuition for free. But David Green, who chaired the instrumental music group, does not think it would be prudent to demand that the remaining 24 follow suit. Had the group taken that step, music tuition could have been "decimated" in some areas, he says in our cover story (News Focus, pages 10-12).

Instead, the group recommended that councils should carry out a review of their charges to stamp out the postcode lottery that currently exists in Scotland, whereby one child can receive lessons for free - as in Edinburgh, the Western Isles, East Lothian, Glasgow, Orkney, South Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian - while another pays up to #163;340 a year - as in Aberdeen.

The real scandal in the report was not so much that some councils charged while others did not - we knew that already - but the mixed fortunes of families that cannot afford to pay.

A high proportion of the Scottish councils that charge for music tuition - 19 out of the 24 - do not charge disadvantaged families; the rest offer concessions, all except South Lanarkshire.

South Lanarkshire - which only introduced fees for music tuition from 2011-12 - says that it is "considering introducing a concession scheme for particular groups of young people". Currently, however, every child who wants to learn a musical instrument in the authority pays #163;180 per year (the average annual fee for music tuition in Scotland is #163;166).

Already, by turning the spotlight on the Scottish councils that were charging tuition fees for pupils sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority exams, the group has brought this practice to an end.

Perhaps it's time to point a tractor beam at South Lanarkshire?

Emma Seith, TESS reporter, emma.seith@tess.co.uk.

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