Sound of cuts is ringing in our ears

15th April 2011 at 01:00
Gillian Macdonald, Editor

One of the messages we receive from readers and followers on Twitter is that they want to read more about what is happening outside Scotland. This week we have a report from Neil Slorach, a Scot who teaches English in Japan (p16). Thursday is the start of the new term there, and he reports on what life is like for the children and their teachers. Over 350,000 people are thought to be homeless, 100,000 children among them. School halls and gyms are being used for shelters. In three prefectures alone, 2,000 schools have collapsed or been left damaged, and 670,000 books are lost or unusable. Out of 108 children in one small school, 74 are dead or missing, and from the 13 teachers, only three remain.

It shows Scotland's cuts in teaching staff and resources in a different perspective. But it doesn't ease the worries of those who fear for their livelihood. In this week's News Focus (p10), it's the instrumental music instructors who are losing their jobs - a third in Midlothian, a quarter in Fife, a sixth in Aberdeen. So much of that creativity which is supposed to lie at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence, and to which music, art and drama specialists contribute, is now at risk.

Scotland, with its Calvinist soul, has never fully appreciated the value of the arts compared with the more academic or practical subjects at the "core" of education. Scotland's youth orchestras have fostered world-class musicians like Evelyn Glennie and Nicola Benedetti, and enlightened authorities have sparked their own music initiatives, like North Lanarkshire which piloted a music comprehensive at St Ambrose High and used rock and jazz bands in its schools to drive up young people's ambition.

We fly in academics such as Sir Ken Robinson from England and America to inspire teachers with reports of what the arts can achieve. We import initiatives such as Il Sistema, the Venezuelan music project for street children which has been piloted in Stirling, and publish evaluation documents which commend the "increased confidence, self-esteem, sense of achievement and pride" it has instilled.

Politicians have done their bit too. Jack McConnell, as First Minister, tried to ensure music was part of children's lives with the Youth Music Initiative in 2003 to ensure all children had the chance to learn a musical instrument in primary. The SNP Government's budget for 2011-12 includes pound;10 million to maintain the initiative, and this week Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray pledged pound;2m for a musical instrument fund for children from poor backgrounds.

We have even tried to develop a new curriculum with creativity at its centre. But still the old ethos persists. When it comes to local authority cuts - when it comes down to brass of the baser variety - music, art and drama are still regarded as extra-curricular. If financial cuts have to be made and it's a choice between the three Rs and the three arts, it seems the former will always win.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor.

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