Music cuts strike a bum note

15th April 2011 at 01:00
A TESS survey of local authorities and their instrumental music services does not make for easy listening. Chris Small tunes in

It may transform lives and smooth the savage breast, but music is evidently regarded as an easy cut when it comes to shrinking education budgets.

In 2003 Scotland's First Minister of the day strove to put music "at the heart of young people's learning", so that by 2006 all schoolchildren would have had access to a year's free music tuition by the time they reached Primary 6. In 2011 the instructors who helped to provide it are being cut across the board.

A TESS survey of local authorities on their instrumental music services reveals that councils are increasing charges for instrumental music teaching, dropping fee exemptions and cutting instructor posts.

Of 31 authorities that responded, more than two-thirds (23) now charge for instrumental tuition. Eight have introduced or increased tuition charges in the past year, and 10 are to raise fees or consider introducing them for the first time in August.

Tuition fees vary widely, from free tuition for all in a dwindling number of authorities - Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian, Orkney, Glasgow, South Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire - to pound;10 per lesson, or about pound;400 a year in Aberdeen. It charges the highest rates in Scotland and may raise them further for next session - a decision has not yet been made, said a spokesperson.

Most authorities have in the past exempted or discounted tuition charges for low-income families and pupils taking Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) music courses, but this picture is changing.

Aberdeen no longer offers the SQA exemption and Aberdeenshire voted last month to remove exemptions for SQA pupils and discounts for siblings. A growing number of councils, such as Dundee, now charge for the hire of instruments on top of fees.

Eleven councils have cut instructor posts over the past two years or not replaced staff following retirements. Midlothian has cut a third of its instructors, or full-time equivalents, in two years (down from 20.9 to 14.1), Aberdeen a sixth (from 42.8 to 36.09) and Fife has got rid of a quarter in the past year alone (47.5 down to 36.5). Dundee plans to axe five of its 20.6 FTE instructors over the next three years.

In some authorities staff have been interviewed for a reduced number of posts and unsuccessful candidates have either lost their job or had their hours reduced, say instructors. Other councils are not replacing staff, or freezing recruitment. Band and orchestra rehearsals, free transport to ensembles and sessional staff for events have also been hit.

Local authorities' targeting of instrumental music tuition reflects the ambivalence with which the service is viewed. Instructors are championed by parents locally and can draw on powerful anecdotal evidence of their impact on pupils' learning, but they remain "extra-curricular" and are regarded as "the low-hanging fruit," in the words of one tutor.

Yet examples of national accolades, good practice and harmony with current educational policy abound.

David McDonald, development officer at Creative Scotland, hails the role of the music instruction service in delivering Curriculum for Excellence and welcomes its potential to "open up new ways of teaching numeracy and literacy".

Graeme Barclay, an assistant instrumental music co-ordinator for South Lanarkshire, says that Scottish instrumental music instruction is "blessed with high-calibre practitioners" who produce "tremendous results", and many tutors are "respected benchmark-setters of performance standards", both nationally and internationally.

Brass bands from Ayrshire, Fife and Lothian perform outstandingly in international competitions - West Lothian has one of the most successful brass bands in the UK, seven-times Scottish Youth champions, 11-times British Youth champions and three-times European Youth champions. Grassroots interest is reviving too: last month Coatbridge Concert Brass, a new youth brass band, was launched through a partnership between the local community and the NHS, with the support of the Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA).

But one education officer told TESS that, in the context of swingeing education cuts, the onus was on music instructors to articulate their educational value more aggressively.

They must "proactively get out there" and "tout for business" in partnership with schools, he said; there was a need to be "much more creative" to stop posts being targeted. Additional funds could be generated through concerts and sales of CDs of performances, but tuition charges were "here to stay" because parents' contribution is "simply the easiest way to raise income".

Recent Scottish governments have given strong support to music education through the Youth Music Initiative (YMI) introduced in 2003 by former Labour MSP and First Minister Jack McConnell. A report by the Scottish Arts Council showed that in 2006-07 his ambition to give all children free music tuition by the time they reached P6 was met by the majority of councils. Four authorities only managed to offer music tuition to children by the end of P6, and another two were accepted as having "the mechanism in place" to offer it.

YMI still supports 300 projects each year, and about 195 FTE staff, including some instrumental music instructors employed by local authorities. But the TESS survey suggests that McConnell's target has not been sustained by the authorities.

In February, Highland Council announced it would withdraw funding from the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton and triggered grassroots support that was potent enough to save the centre. Following a campaign by parents, pupils and musicians, a Government transfusion of pound;200,000 will now enable the West Highland College UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands) to partner Plockton, one of four national centres of excellence.

The SNP Government earmarked a further pound;10m for the Youth Music Initiative in its budget for 2011-12.

This week, Scottish Labour pledged in its election manifesto to deliver a new policy for schools, which would make music a key part of the curriculum and include a pound;2m musical instrument fund for children from poor backgrounds. No child should be prevented from playing a musical instrument because its family is too poor, said Labour leader Iain Gray.

Current anxiety over funding levels is just one expression of a much wider argument about the value of music in children's learning.

Studies in the US and UK have found that secondary school music students show higher attainment than non-music students in the same school - and that many pupils who receive extra-curricular music instruction prosper academically. The increase in confidence, happiness and social skills in later life is harder to measure.

Nicola Killean, chief executive of Sistema Scotland, a trailblazing project that involves deprived children in classical music (see below), believes understanding how music shapes children's learning should "not just be about measuring outcomes"; the music experiences Sistema promotes are holistic, rather than driven by academic aspirations, and they inform "health, well-being, literacy and numeracy".

A spokeswoman for the Heads of Instrumental Music Scotland pointed also to the contribution instrumental services make to preparing pupils for the performance element of SQA music examinations. They can be "the glue that binds together both cross-curricular and interdisciplinary learning", she said.

Wallace Galbraith, who has taught music in Ayrshire schools over the past 34 years, said: "The experience of being part of an orchestra or band, and the reliance on and interaction with peers this involves has ramifications for people's character and achievements later in life." Speaking to former pupils had confirmed the profound influence playing in a band had on adult attitudes and abilities, he said.

At the EIS music teachers' conference in Edinburgh, in February, education consultant David Cameron issued a rallying call, describing music instruction as making "a vital contribution to our cultural identity".

Cuts to education "would go on for ever" unless teachers changed, he said. That meant taking more pride in "stimulating creativity" in young people and "inculcating a sense of risk-taking"; it also meant teaching more than music and imparting more than technique.

He summed up the paradox faced by instrumental music teachers: "They are not statutory, but they are essential".


Based in comprehensive schools:

- Douglas Academy Music School, East Dunbartonshire

- Aberdeen City Music School at Dyce Academy

- National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High, Highland

- City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton High and Flora Stevenson Primary, Edinburgh


Vocal and instrumental music tutors should be allowed to register with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), argues the EIS teachers' union. It believes the move would fortify the workforce in the face of local authority cuts and create continuing professional development opportunities.

It is a view echoed by many tutors, who feel it would help to achieve parity with classroom teachers and bolster their profession's profile.

Registration would formally acknowledge the professional status of instrumental instructors, and help to encourage high standards, says Mark Traynor, convener of the EIS instrumental music teachers' network, but they should form part of a discrete category that would reflect their remit.

The majority of the profession is dedicated, Mr Traynor says, but for too long a small minority had not adhered to the expected levels of professionalism. "Registration would, for the first time, regulate our profession to ensure that standards are consistent."

The establishment next April of an independent GTCS, which could register "other individuals working in educational settings as it thinks fit", has invigorated the EIS campaign.

A GTCS spokesman confirmed that it would be possible for the council to "widen its reach beyond qualified classroom teachers". It had held constructive conversations with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama about how instructors are trained and given advice on what happens in initial teacher education.

"We will be happy to continue this dialogue and to explore more fully with instrumental music teachers the possibility of them becoming registered at some point in the future, once they meet GTC Scotland requirements," the spokesman said.

Despite the drive for registration, many in the profession agree that the council should only consider some form of accreditation if it exists in a separate category from classroom teachers.

Registration that failed to reflect the diversity of instructors risked stoking tensions with teachers, said one education officer. It would be hard to reflect the spectrum of skills, which ranged from "Friday night pub musicians who can't read music to academics playing second fiddle in the RSNO".


The National Youth Orchestras of Scotland

(NYOS) provides orchestral experiences for pupils aged eight to 25, with eight ensembles, ranging in age, size and musical style. The National Children's Orchestra has helped to develop child prodigies such as Nicola Benedetti, who led the orchestra at the age of nine. NYOS organises training, intensive rehearsals and national and international tours for its orchestras, and delivers workshops in primary and secondary schools.

The National Youth Choir of Scotland Works with local authorities to deliver training to non-specialist classroom teachers in the Kodaly method, with the aim of helping to make music and singing an everyday experience for schoolchildren.


Sistema's Success story

The Sistema Scotland project in Stirling's deprived Raploch community offers a rare model of how instrumental tuition can benefit children. It dovetails neatly with the Scottish Government's early years framework and received a glowing evaluation last month in a Government report.

The project immerses children in classical music through an intensive orchestral participation programme called "Big Noise", which aims to seed confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the 388 children involved - and throughout the wider community.

During term time, Sistema's 17 staff musicians work with Raploch nursery children, P1s and children in the special school. P2-7 pupils attend an after-school programme three days a week, and tuition continues during holidays, with orchestra sessions five times a week. The programme is part of the curriculum in nursery and P1, and voluntary from P2 upwards.

Pupils come from local primaries Our Lady's, Raploch and Castleview, but the 90-strong Big Noise Orchestra is also open to Raploch children who attend school elsewhere.

Big Noise started in 2008 by concentrating on teaching string instruments - violin, viola, cello and double bass - and has since extended to trumpet, trombone, French horn, euphonium, clarinet, oboe, flute, bassoon and percussion.

The evaluation report found evidence that Big Noise was having "a positive impact" on children's personal and social development, including "increased confidence, self-esteem, a sense of achievement and pride, improved social skills, team-working skills and expanded social networks".

Particular advantages were identified for children with special educational needs, including "a sense of belonging, improved ability to concentrate and focus on a task, a sense of responsibility and positive behaviour change".

A survey of parents and carers in the report showed 100 per cent thought their children were more confident, 93 per cent thought they were happier, 79 per cent thought they were more willing to concentrate, and 43 per cent thought they behaved better as a result of participation.

Although too early to measure long-term effects, the report says Big Noise is "well placed" to achieve a range of outcomes, including "greater engagement in learning, higher academic performance, reduction in negative and health-harming behaviours, benefits to families, employers and communities, and better employability skills".

It's about a combination of social and educational change, explains Sistema Scotland's chief executive Nicola Killean, whose eyes have been opened to "the transformative effects of the arts".

"Our work with schools in Raploch is linked with literacy and numeracy, health and well-being - and it complements Curriculum for Excellence," says the former nursery teacher and cultural co-ordinator.

The approach is based on Venezuela's Il Sistema movement, founded by maestro Jose Antonio Abreu in Caracas in 1975. Five years ago Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh and chair of Creative Scotland, was inspired to set up the charitable trust behind Big Noise, following a visit to youth orchestras in Caracas.

The arts agency has made significant investments in establishing Sistema Scotland and developing Big Noise. David McDonald, Creative Scotland's development officer, says the project "transcends the boundaries of a purely artistically-driven programme" and "cuts across" a range of other public policy areas including regeneration, health, and social and educational services.

Sceptics have suggested that deep cultural differences between Venezuela and Scotland mean Il Sistema should not be replicated "wholesale" - and that a more specialised response to Raploch's poverty is required.

But the philosophy informing Sistema is "very adaptable", counters Ms Killean. "Music is a universal tool and children are children, wherever you are. We all need to be nurtured, and this is about how we can help them achieve their full potential."

Concerns have been voiced about whether the benefits of the orchestra programme can be accurately assessed. The evaluation concluded that there was "limited evidence at this stage" of whether it was having an impact "on attainment and engagement with education".

Launching the initiative in 2007, Richard Holloway was clear that it was "not about quick fixes", but "slow transformation".

Ms Killean is hopeful that the Government's self-evaluation framework for "assessing and demonstrating" the extent to which Big Noise contributes to relevant national outcomes can be used to gather evidence. "It should be a powerful tool for us and others working in music education," she says.

The aim now is to collaborate with other local authorities in Scotland and open two further centres by 2013 - though this could be stifled by ongoing budget cuts.


8 - The number of authorities offering free tuition:

East Lothian





South Ayrshire

West Dunbartonshire

West Lothian

11 - The number of authorities that have cut or not replaced instructors' posts since 2009:





East Ayrshire






North Ayrshire

Source: TESS and EIS surveys, 2011

15.8% - The percentage of P4-S6 pupils receiving instrumental lessons.

80,000 - The number of pupils taught by instrumental instructors per year.

Original headline: `Not statutory, but essential': music cuts strike a bum note

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