Music lessons should be free, says education secretary

Education secretary accepts music tuition fees could be stopping pupils pursuing music qualifications

Emma Seith

Swinney urges councils to fund free music lessons

Scotland’s education secretary is urging councils to provide instrumental music tuition free of charge as he acknowledged today the fees some authorities charge for lessons could be preventing pupils pursuing music qualifications in secondary.

Scottish local authorities have committed to providing free access to instrumental music tuition for pupils undertaking Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) courses in the upper years of secondary.

However, during a debate today on instrumental music tuition in the Scottish Parliament – which follows the publication of the Education and Skills Committee’s report A note of concern: The future of instrumental music tuition in schools – MSPs pointed out if pupils had not had access to instrumental music tuition before the qualifications phase in secondary it would be “almost impossible” for them to pursue a music qualification.

Background: ‘Music tuition should be free to all students’

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

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

Convener Clare Adamson said the committee had noted with interest that the government’s response to the committee report stated that “instrumental music tuition which is necessary to provide adequate preparation for SQA examinations should be provided free of charge”.

However, she pointed out the committee had heard that “adequate preparation for SQA examinations starts not in [the fourth year of secondary school] but at a much earlier stage in a young person’s musical career”.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said that the issue was likely to be tested in court.

A crowdfunding bid has been launched to pay for a judicial review of the lawfulness of music tuition fees in Scottish state schools.

Ralph Riddiough, a partner at Ayr firm Kilpatrick & Walker, is seeking to raise £15,000 via crowdfunding site CrowdJustice to pay for the case.

Mr Swinney said the issue of what moment a child embarked on the trajectory to achieving SQA qualifications was “quite a difficult issue to resolve” and the only solution was to provide lessons free of charge.

He said: “The only way to answer that question is that instrumental music tuition should not have a charge. That’s the only way you get around that.”

Mr Swinney said he accepted it was "tough" financial times for local authorities but insisted the Scottish government had treated local government "fairly". He pointed out that seven councils had managed to keep music tuition free of charge: Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and the Western Isles.

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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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