Councils cook up a storm as they impose charges

21st December 2012 at 00:00
Anger simmers as students are asked to pay for essential ingredients

First music, now home economics - further evidence is emerging that some subjects are more vulnerable than others to charges being imposed by cash-strapped councils.

Increasing numbers of pupils are being asked to pay for materials and ingredients used in home economics, prompting the general secretary of Scotland's biggest teaching union to speak out on the matter.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan told TESS that there was growing anecdotal evidence of such a trend - and it may lead the union to conduct a survey next year to determine the extent of the problem.

That news echoes concerns around local authorities introducing charges for music tuition, or hiking them where they already exist. As with music, Mr Flanagan is particularly concerned that some local authorities may effectively be charging pupils to enter Scottish Qualifications Authority exams, by insisting they pay for essential home economics materials.

Mr Flanagan voiced his concerns in reaction to the Scottish government's announcement of an extra pound;1 million funding to buy musical instruments in schools, and that a new working group, with EIS involvement, will examine the issues around levels of charging for music tuition and, in particular, the "damaging practice" of some local authorities charging pupils for presentation at SQA music exams.

Concerns remained around the "postcode lottery" of music provision, which resulted in pupils paying nothing for instrumental tuition in some parts of Scotland up to pound;340 in other areas, he said.

"The EIS believes that every child should have the right to learn to play a music instrument or to develop their ability to sing," said Mr Flanagan. "This is brought into particularly sharp focus at Christmas, a time when festive school concerts, carol-singing performances, and nativity plays are being enjoyed by parents, pupils, teachers, and local communities."

He added: "The Scottish government announcement of the new working group is a positive step - but it is now down to local authorities to review their own policies on music education, particularly charging policy, and recommit to delivering a high-quality music education for all pupils who want it."

Mr Flanagan was particularly critical of the practice in some local authorities of charging pupils for presentation to SQA music exams: "This is simply unacceptable from both an education and equality point of view, and must be one of the top priorities for the new working group to address."

No child should ever be denied the chance to learn an instrument, said learning minister Alasdair Allan after announcing the pound;1 million musical instrument fund.

The instrumental music group's work will also examine "how we ensure local musical traditions are catered for as well as studying what role the wider musical community can play in supporting our ambitions for our children", said Dr Allan.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk

Banded together

The instrumental music group will have an independent chair, who has yet to be announced. Members will include Cosla, education directors' body ADES, Education Scotland, Creative Scotland, Heads of Instrumental Teachers Scotland (HITS), Scottish Association for Music Education (SAME), EIS, National Parent Forum Scotland, and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The group will start work in January and report back in the summer of 2013.

Photo credit: Neil Turner

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