YOUNG MUSICIANS in remote Dumfries and Galloway schools have honed their talent with the help of tutors 60 miles away, and have often done better than in conventional lessons.
Advances in video-conferencing technology have enabled pupils in Drummore, Glentrool, Port William and Whithorn primaries to learn how to play brass instruments. They used a live link with a tutor in Dumfries, through a 42-inch plasma screen, to learn the trumpet, trombone and horn. The technology also enabled them to work with one of the world's best trumpet players, based in London.
Now, an independent evaluation report has endorsed the distance-learning approach, with findings of increased uptake and improvements in behaviour.
The report, by the Centre for Education and Industry at Warwick University, has found:
* Many more pupils were learning instruments than would normally be the case.
* Pupils appeared to be making progress on a par with, or better than, their likely progress in conventional lessons.
* Self-esteem, behaviour and confidence improved.
* No pupils or teachers encountered difficulties in learning to work the technology.
* When broadband is available to schools in the region (this is likely to happen within the coming months) tuition via video-conferencing should become affordable.
Video-conferencing has been available for years, but poor images and sound, as well as cumbersome and unreliable equipment, have hampered usage in schools.
The pilot project in Dumfries and Galloway, however, has proved that advances in technology now make music tuition by video link a possibility. Funded with pound;83,000 from the Scottish Executive's Future Learning and Teaching programme, the project sought to overcome difficulties presented by the region's geography.
Dumfries and Galloway Council policy states that tuition in musical instruments should take place at local secondaries. For some pupils that school is 18 miles away, meaning a long round trip for a 30-minute lesson. Staffing issues, meanwhile, prevent music instructors from visiting individual primary schools for lessons.
The project started towards the end of 2005 and saw large flat-screen televisions, cameras and ISDN telephone lines installed in schools. A UK-wide advertisement seeking someone to teach musical instruments exclusively over a video link attracted seven applicants, resulting in Grant Golding's ap pointment to teach from a base at St Teresa's Primary in Dumfries.
Pupils usually worked alone with Mr Golding, al-though the technology can be used so that several pupils from more than one school are taught at any one time.
The technology also allowed the schools to pick up tips from the London Symphony Orchestra's renowned trumpet player Rod Franks. He took part in a number of live link-ups with Dumfries and Galloway pupils from St Luke's Centre in London.
Alan Cameron, Dumfries and Galloway education officer and project manager, said: "The kids love it and the schools are supportive. They have enjoyed the experience of interactivity and what you might call the autonomy of learning they enjoy using the technology and being in control of it. Invariably, you find that the youngsters don't need a teacher there."
The technology has also been used outwith music tuition. Earlier this year, pupils at Port William Primary were able to watch an Easter presentation put on by children at a school in Poland. Two Polish pupils at the Scottish school translated for their schoolmates.
Dumfries and Galloway Council is now bringing the technology to secondary schools. In June, video-conferencing systems were installed in Douglas Ewart High, Newton Stewart, Langholm Academy, Maxwelltown High, Dumfries, Sanquhar Academy, and Stranraer Academy.
Alan Cameron will give a presentation at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow in September