An MSP has accused Labour of providing music tuition “for the few, not the many” after a council controlled by the party became Scotland’s first to propose scrapping the service for most pupils.
Midlothian Council has put forward plans to axe instrumental music tuition in schools except for pupils in S4 and higher taking SQA music exams.
The controversial proposal follows an inquiry into fees charged for the service across Scotland, leading Holyrood’s Education Committee to recommend it should be free and children are losing out due to the costs involved.
Last year, 25 of Scotland’s 32 councils introduced fees of up to £524.
However, a Labour MSP called on the Government to show some “honesty” around council finances, rather than blaming local authorities after cuts to core council services were voted through in the recent Scottish Budget.
SNP MSP Christine Grahame raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood, saying: “Labour-led Midlothian Council is the only council in Scotland planning to axe all music tuition for pupils below S4, at the same time paying out £10 million a year in interest payments from the education budget because of Labour’s punitive PFI projects.
“With the result that if you want to play you’ll have to pay privately – music for the few not the many.”
After putting her own spin on Labour’s slogan, she said she would be joining a protest outside the council’s headquarters on Tuesday.
Labour’s Alex Rowley said: “Is it not time that we had a degree of honesty around the cuts taking place to local councils and actually have a discussion on how we are going to solve those cuts rather than blaming councils when we vote through those cuts?”
Mr Swinney said some local authorities do not charge for music tuition and he is “absolutely certain” this will be the case once councils have set their budgets this year.
“I would encourage Midlothian Council to reflect on that position,” he said, and added: “It is for local authorities to decide how to provide instrumental music tuition, depending on local circumstances, priorities and traditions.
“In taking these decisions local authorities should consider the undoubted benefits that learning a musical instrument can have on wellbeing and on attainment.”
Questioned by Conservative Liz Smith on the Education Committee finding a “complete lack of clarity” regarding whether instrumental music tuition for SQA exams can be legitimately charged for by schools, Mr Swinney said he believes the guidance is “crystal clear” but that this situation would be looked into.