Fees for pupils learning a musical instrument at school would be abolished under plans in the SNP manifesto, it has emerged.
All pupils in some parts of Scotland already receive free tuition but others are charged several hundred pounds a year.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens – who have just become the first major party to public its manifesto for the 6 May Scottish Parliament election – have today also made commitments to providing free music tuition.
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The Times has reported that the £18 million SNP commitment is intended to pressurise council leaders into making the change, in the way that a similar strategy led to free school meals for P1-3 pupils throughout the country.
In December, Tes Scotland reported that the local authority where lessons were most expensive in 2020-21 was Clackmannanshire, with an annual fee of £524. West Lothian Council only introduced charging in 2018-19 but was the second most expensive authority, with fees of £354 per year. There, pupil numbers had almost halved, going from 2,178 in 2017-18, the year before fees were introduced, to 1,131 in 2019-20.
Scottish election 2021: Families won't have to pay for music tuition, says SNP
However, the figures, from an annual survey of music services, also showed that all 25 local authorities that charged for instrumental music lessons in 2019-20 also offered some form of concession for families with low incomes and students sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) qualifications.
A recent investigation by the Ferret investigative news website found that the number of Scottish children learning a musical instrument dropped sharply during the Covid lockdowns.
John Swinney, the deputy first minister and education secretary, tweeted this morning about the SNP's manifesto promise on music. “Delighted with this bold initiative to provide free music tuition in schools. A key opportunity for young people to thrive in these tough times,” he said.
In comments reported by The Times, Mr Swinney said: “Participation in music and the arts can have a hugely positive impact on the wellbeing and attainment of our children and young people, providing them with opportunities to be creative, develop their imaginations and experience inspiration and enjoyment.
“This will build on our record of promoting equality of opportunity across all local authority schools and ensure that music tuition remains accessible for all.”
The promise to scrap music fees is to be matched by a commitment to scrap costs for materials in other arts subjects.
The report concluded that the Covid pandemic had “exposed widening social and attainment gaps” but had also “provided impetus for creative solutions”.
It recommended a digital transformation in music tutoring, delivered by the Conservatoire, and more involvement for initiatives such as the Benedetti Foundation, set up by classical violinist Nicola Benedetti.
It said the aim was to “mainstream music in Scotland’s education system for social, cultural and economic purpose”, making Scotland a world leader in creativity, “confident and celebratory in its own culture”.