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McConnell sounds right note

FREE music tuition for primary pupils may not have the same electoral resonance as free beer for the workers but it is a promise that the Scottish Executive hopes will strike a chord with parents.

Last week it was free fruit for P1 and P2 pupils, this week it is free lessons in the fiddle for the pre-P6s.

The First Minister, launching the initiative at St Teresa's primary, Newarthill, in his North Lanarkshire constituency, dished out an extra pound;17.5 million over the next three years to let local authorities offer free music lessons to younger children for at least a year.

Jack McConnell first revealed his musical intent when he addressed headteachers last year at a breakfast meeting in Glasgow.

This week Mr McConnell was responding to a Scottish Arts Council audit which found that children's access to music tuition depends on where they live. It says that charging fees is a barrier to participation and that 100,000 Scottish children would join in regularly if they were given the chance.

Mr McConnell said: "By offering free music tuition to all pupils by the time they reach primary 6, we will ensure that money is never a barrier to letting our children's talents flourish."

The announcement was welcomed by Nod Knolls, head of music at the SAC: "We are delighted at what is really a considerable amount of money for youth music provision and we will be looking at the commitment to provide free tuition in primary schools to see how we can fit it into our overall strategy.

"Charging fees is one of the barriers to increasing tuition and we will be seeking to diminish this barrier across the country."

Tommy Smith, the internationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist and director of the Scottish National Youth Jazz Orchestra, who began his career after receiving free tuition at Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh, stressed the importance of all children being offered "a shot at playing an instrument".

He told The TES Scotland it would help teachers identify talent and highlight the need for inspirational staff. "The quality of instrumental teacher is absolutely crucial - they have to have the most diverse backgrounds with a bit of classical, pop and jazz, and generally be musical all-rounders."

Two of the St Teresa's pupils who performed at the launch were quite clear about why they liked playing. Nine-year-old Jamie Newall, whose instrument is the cornet, gets "a good feeling when people say you are good at it".

Ten-year-old trumpeter Emily Brough enjoys the appreciation of an audience and "being part of group that sound so nice".

The Arts Council will work with local authorities and music organisations to increase the number of instruments available to schools. Pupils should have different kinds of music on offer and more choice of instruments.

Michael Russell, the SNP's shadow education minister, welcomed the extra cash but warned that the move would not address the shortage of music tutors. "In addition, we have to ensure that equal attention is paid to music tuition in secondary schools," Mr Russell said.

"We must also ask questions about how free music for a year will fit into the revised 5-14 curriculum. It can't just be added on: the Executive has pledged that this type of approach is not the way to go."

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