Music hits a low note

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Severe cuts to instrumental tuition and charging of fees could create `lost generation', say experts

Drastic cutbacks are looming for instrumental music instruction - which many fear will create a "lost generation" of young people, denied the chance to learn an instrument.

They believe big cuts in Fife and Midlothian, as well as the introduction of tuition charges in South Lanarkshire, will only mark the beginning, with instrumental instruction an "easy target" for councils desperate to find savings.

Several other councils are at various stages in considering severe cuts, the introduction of charges, or a large hike in fees - including some with an outstanding reputation for music, such as North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Shetland.

Mark Traynor, convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland's music instructors' network, said instrumental instruction, for which there was no statutory requirement, appeared to be an "easy target".

The picture throughout Scotland was "not looking great", and his members feared a "lost generation" would emerge, with children lacking the opportunities enjoyed by their predecessors.

With increasingly tight budgets predicted in the years ahead, the network fears the true extent of the impact on music instructors will only become clear next year.

"We would be concerned about the years from 2011 onwards - that this will be the start of a domino effect," Mr Traynor said.

Sheena Macdonald, Scotland and Northern Ireland organiser for the Musicians Union, also predicted a "lost generation". She said it was not possible to scrimp for a short time, then build up a service to what it was - that would take many years.

Charging for instruction did not make councils money, she added. Some authorities, such as North Lanarkshire Council, had tried the idea and scrapped it after finding that administration, exemptions and pursuing non-payment cost more than the sums raised.

Fife Council had planned a 50 per cent cut in instrumental instruction over two years - equivalent to 34 staff.

After widespread dismay, the changes were delayed, but there will still be a 25 per cent cut after the summer - and instrumental instruction will only be spared another 25 per cent cut next year if "efficiency savings" are found elsewhere in the music service.

Douglas Chapman, chair of the council's education and children's services committee, said music tuition in Fife had long been "gold-plated" and that, even with the cuts, Fife would still have a service on a par with most of Scotland.

He accepted that instrumental instruction was important to Curriculum for Excellence and boosted children's confidence, but could see no other option in the current financial climate. This was the first time cuts in instrumental instruction had been agreed, even though they were proposed by council officers year after year.

More than 1,200 people have signed an online petition protesting against the cuts, over 2,600 have joined a Facebook group, and a musical protest is planned for April 8 outside council offices in Glenrothes.

In Midlothian, the council is making the cuts in primary schools: pound;48,000 this year and a further pound;125,000 next year.

Peter Boyes, its cabinet member for education and communities, said: "We have aimed to implement cuts to services which will have the least impact on the academic achievements of pupils in Midlothian schools."

North Lanarkshire Council officers hope the impact of a pound;40,000 cut in the instrumental budget can be offset by not replacing a departing administration officer, scaling back evening rehearsals, not buying as much equipment and raising sponsorship.

Meanwhile, East Ayrshire and Shetland Islands councils will decide this month whether to start charging for tuition, having paved the way for such a move in their budgets.


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