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100,000 Scottish children are missing out on music lessons because of fees

Experts reported massive unmet demand in instrument tuition as council budgets are forced to make more cuts

More than 100,000 pupils across Scotland are being shut out of music tuition because of fees and staff shortages, a new report has revealed.

The What’s Going On Now? study concluded that children are being subjected to a ‘postcode lottery’ for music lessons, despite there being no evidence that interest in learning an instrument varies between local authority areas.

However figures showed that music uptake in some councils was as low as eight per cent – rising to 25 per cent in other areas.

The report, commissioned by the Music Education Partnership Group (MEPG) and Creative Scotland, showed that average music tuition fees had more than doubled from £102 in 2003-04 to £220.

John Wallace, chair of the MEPG, said: “Scotland is incredibly rich in musical culture across all genres. It gives Scottish identity its focus, has a beneficial effect on everything it touches, and affords us a distinctive voice internationally. The music industry is a burgeoning sector full of opportunity.

“As an effective investment in the future of our young people, Scotland needs to maintain, sustain and develop its music education.”

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Of 60,000 children receiving instrumental tuition across Scotland, only 19,000 get the lessons for free. However last month the Scottish Parliament’s education committee recommended an end be put to music lesson fees.

Researchers found that music is still one of the most popular subjects on the curriculum, with the sixth highest Advanced Higher uptake in Scotland. To compare, music is the 25th most popular A-level subject in England.

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and cabinet secretary for education and skills, said: “Music education is of enormous benefit to young people and, as set out in the Programme for Government, the Scottish Government is committed to working collaboratively to find solutions to help ensure instrumental music remains accessible to all.”

Detailed in the report was “significant unmet demand” for music tuition from Scottish pupils, which experts said will only be met using an innovative approach.

But Educational Institute of Scotland general secretary Larry Flanagan said council cuts risk making music an activity exclusively for wealthy families. He said: “The report makes some welcome contributions, but it is essential we go much further in protecting and expanding instrumental music.

“As we have seen in recent local authority budget decisions, instrumental music is often one of the first areas targeted when education cutbacks are being considered.

“There is a postcode lottery of provision across the country, with a lack of provision in some parts and excessive fees being introduced in many areas.

“The inevitable result of this is a lack of opportunity for many young people, with those from less affluent backgrounds more likely to miss out on the opportunity to learn music.”

Ralph Riddiough, an Ayrshire lawyer, is gearing up to launch a crowdfunding campaign to challenge the 25 Scottish councils which charge families for their children to have music tuition. He believes it is legally problematic to classify the lessons as outside of the core curriculum under the 1980 Education Scotland Act.

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