Music tuition decline will hit Scotland’s culture, MSPs warned

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Scotland faces a huge cultural and commercial loss if music tuition in schools is allowed to decline, MSPs have been told.

The warning came as a Scottish Parliament committee heard there has been an “unforgivable” degradation in the provision of instrumental teaching across the country, amid widespread concern over charges for the tuition.

As a result, the system is becoming increasingly “inequitable”, with free tuition in some local authority areas and other councils charging hundreds of pounds for the service, the committee was told.

Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee is holding an inquiry into school music tuition and took evidence on Wednesday from a panel of experts in the field.

Figures submitted to the MSPs show there has been a fall of more than 1,200 in the number of pupils learning an instrument in one year.

Data from the Improvement Service reveals the number of instrumental music pupils dropped from 61,615 in 2016/17 to 60,326 in 2017/18.

Kirk Richardson, convener of the Instrumental Music Teachers’ Network at the EIS union, spoke of the potential “cultural loss” to Scotland if the situation continues.

He said: “Scotland accounts for 11% of the UK’s live music revenue and music tourism brings in around £280 million a year to Scotland and secures more than 2,000 full time jobs.

“In 2015 alone, 720,000 foreign and domestic visitors came to the country for festivals and major music concerts.

“So if this is allowed to die there is a huge loss to this country, commercially as well. We need to wake up to this.”

He also told how pupils’ interest in taking up an instrument diminishes once the issue of charging is raised.

“To me, charging is the biggest barrier that I come across on a daily basis,” he said.

Andrew Dickie, committee member of the Scottish Association for Music Education, said Scotland’s cultural heritage “is actually being undermined by the very fact of charging that exists for young people”.

Mr Dickie told the panel: “For some time now there has been a degradation in provision of music teaching in Scotland in terms of equity of opportunity for children to take part.

“Pricing has played a massive part in that.

“Children across Scotland have had, in some instances, music taken away from them, and in some authorities it’s free.”

He continued: “To watch the tears of children who have the instruments taken from them, and all of the other aspects of that – social exclusion from not taking part in activities their friends are taking part in – to be frank, it is unforgivable.”

Labour MSP Johann Lamont pointed to figures showing the number of tutors has reduced by around 350 since 2007.

Kenny Christie, chair of Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland, said the situation is now at a tipping point.

“As we move forward, it is becoming a more and more inequitable system,” he said.

“We currently have fee charging policies which range from some areas providing free tuition to all, some areas now charging up to £524.

“It’s not all about money. It’s about ambition for our country, it’s about aspiration for our children and young people and to me it’s about excellence and equity, which is obviously the driving mantra of the Scottish Government when it comes to education.

“At the moment we are reaching a tipping point where we are not providing these opportunities for all the children and their families in the country.”

John Wallace, chair of the Music Education Partnership Group, suggested it would take £4 million of new money – the amount collected in fees each year by local authorities to deliver the music services – to sort out the situation.

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