Facing the music: tuition ‘in danger of dying out’

25th March 2016 at 00:00
Music facing fight for survival
Council cuts put instrument lessons at risk in parts of Scotland, say instructors

Instrumental music tuition in schools is facing a “fight for survival” and could disappear from some areas within two years, instructors say, as new figures reveal shrinking tuition budgets around Scotland.

Music teachers say that services are already far more limited than they used to be in some parts of the country, while above-inflation increases in tuition charges mean that poor families could miss out.

Instrumental music tuition budgets have been cut by almost £1 million overall, with a total of nine councils making cuts, an analysis of 2016-17 budgets set by Scotland’s local authorities shows.

The study – carried out by the Instrumental Music Teachers’ Network and shared exclusively with TESS – shows that the biggest reduction is being made in West Lothian, which will cut £275,000.

The research also finds that tuition charges have increased in around a quarter of authorities. There have been 20 per cent increases in East Renfrewshire and Moray, and a 29 per cent increase in Fife. Dumfries & Galloway started charging £200 for previously free lessons.

“It’s a very mixed bag of really good and really concerning stories,” said network convener Mark Traynor, who stressed that some councils, such as Dundee and Midlothian, had scrapped music tuition charges altogether in recent times.

“At the moment, there’s a general support for instrumental music.

“But if we continue on the path we’re going on, with these cuts, it won’t be too long before we see some of these instrumental music services going to the wall completely – we may see some services disappearing.”

He added: “In the next two to three years, the greatest challenge facing instrumental music provision will be its survival.”

Instrumental music was suffering “death by a thousand cuts”, said Mr Traynor, but the network fears even more dramatic changes in years to come.

A proposal to cut the service in Edinburgh by 75 per cent, for example, was recently shelved after a huge public backlash. But the city council is still planning to revisit the idea next year.

The network’s members also say that some councils have looked at moving instrumental music services into arm’s-length trusts, aping the approach to sports and cultural services in some parts of Scotland.


Children ‘miss out’

Mr Traynor said it was “crucial” that music, a subject being taken by growing numbers of Higher-level students around the country, remained an integral part of council-run education services, otherwise it risked being marginalised.

The network, part of the EIS teaching union, is concerned about above-inflation rises in tuition costs in most of the 24 councils that charge for music tuition, especially where there is no action to reduce such costs for less advantaged families.

“Widening social inequality is a real concern,” said Mr Traynor. “As charges for instrumental tuition continue to rise year-on-year, more and more families find themselves unable to afford tuition, but at the same time they fall outside of the current threshold of exemption from charging.”

The network believes that instrumental tuition should be free for all, but some councils are heading towards “a totally self-funding model paid for entirely through charging”.

Dr David McGuinness, a senior lecturer in music at the University of Glasgow, said that learning an instrument in school – particularly if it entailed being part of a band or orchestra – provided many powerful lessons that came in useful even if a pupil never played music again in adult life.

“It’s not just about your stock in music – it’s about all the other things you learn,” he said.

These included teamwork, organisation and punctuality, as pupils are “working together towards a common aim with a deadline that’s not going to move – because the audience is going to turn up regardless”.

Several councils told TESS that, despite approving savings to instrumental music, it remained a critical part of their education service (see box, “Councils respond”, above).

West Lothian Council stressed that it did not charge any of its 2,400 pupils who receive music tuition and had no plans to introduce charges in future.

“The proposed future budget of £900,000 per year for instrumental music would still give West Lothian one of the best-resourced services in Scotland,” a spokesman said.


Music in Scotland hits high and low notes

The provision of music tuition in Scotland is highly mixed, according to figures from the Improvement Service.

The figures, compiled before the latest round of local budgets, revealed that, in Orkney, 19.9 per cent of primary and secondary pupils received tuition, compared with 5.3 per cent in Clackmannanshire. Options for poorer children also varied hugely: 31 per cent of P4s and above who were registered for free school meals in Glasgow received free tuition; in Shetland and Aberdeenshire it was 6 per cent.

£2.5m grant for youth orchestra scheme

The Scottish government last week announced £2.5 million to support youth orchestra programme Sistema Scotland.

This will allow it to build on work at its “Big Noise” tuition centres in poorer parts of Stirling, Glasgow and Aberdeen, bringing the scheme to 700 more children.

The programme, which originated in Venezuela, already works with more than 1,500 children and young people in Scotland, aiming to “transform” the lives of those in disadvantaged communities.

Richard Holloway, chairman of the Sistema Scotland Board, said that a recent study showed Big Noise attendees had higher attainment, better school attendance and more confidence and self-esteem. The programme had “the potential to quickly generate social benefits greater than the costs of delivery”, he added.

Mark Traynor, convener of the EIS Instrumental Music Teachers’ Network, praised the achievements of Sistema. But he suggested that mixed messages were being sent out if cuts and increased charges denied many other poor children in Scotland the chance to learn a musical instrument.


Councils respond

South Ayrshire is due to save £84,000 when two full-time equivalent instrumental teaching posts are cut in August .

Education director Douglas Hutchison says: “We remain committed to delivering a free music instruction service for our children and young people, and it’s important to note that there’s been no reduction in the instrumental music service in the last three years.”

South Lanarkshire Council’s £100,000 saving in 2016-17 will be achieved mainly by not filling existing vacancies, says head of education Lynn Sherry. But the instrumental music service will “continue to deliver…tuition to a range of pupils across all stages of primary and secondary schools”, she adds.

South Lanarkshire will continue free tuition for pupils from poorer backgrounds and it will maintain its branch of the government’s Youth Music Initiative, which brings “high-quality music opportunities” to people who would not otherwise have them.

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