Lack of staff ‘denies school kids music lessons’

Music lessons have diminished across state schools. Picture: Gary Hutchison
Music lessons have diminished across state schools. Picture: Gary Hutchison
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THE number of school pupils accessing free music tuition has dropped by more than 140 in a single year – sparking warnings that youngsters are being denied lessons because of staff shortages.

Critics said the decrease highlighted growing pressure on music departments, amid claims there are fewer full-time specialists and that teachers are having to shuttle between a growing number of schools.

We need to ensure that music is not reserved for the privileged

Finlday Hetherington

The comments came after fresh figures revealed that 4614 pupils in mainstream schools accessed free instrumental music tuition in 2014-15 – down from 4758 in 2013-14 and adrift of a target of 4750.

Education leaders said the fall was due to natural fluctuation and insisted that there had been no reduction in spending or staffing levels.

However, Finlay Hetherington, director of music tuition company Most Entertaining, who has taught brass instruments in council-run campuses and at St Mary’s Music School, said the trend was evidence of a “lottery” in provision.

He said: “What is remarkable is that not one primary school in the state sector in Edinburgh offers piano tuition.

“It is surprising that music lessons have diminished across state schools as music has long been regarded as having wide reaching benefits in the development of children, from increasing concentration and coordination to helping with a child’s confidence.

“Fewer full-time instructors in schools has inevitably limited the number of pupils who can be taught an instrument.

“There’s a huge number of talented musicians and teachers who are doing a great job but are limited in what they can do because of the time restrictions at each school.

“It’s a lottery in terms of the instruments which are on offer or which specialists are [available] in a given school.”

He warned that failing to support comprehensive music tuition would be hugely damaging. “We need to ensure music is not reserved for the privileged but accessible for children from all backgrounds,” he said. “If this opportunity is lost, then we are gravely affecting how our children learn and develop. This will also be detrimental to the quality of our ensembles and the cultural opportunities that come with that.”

Councillor Jason Rust, Conservative member for Colinton-Fairmilehead, said: “These figures need to be kept under review – it’s critical there’s equality of opportunity across the city.”

A council spokesman said: “The staffing budget for the instrumental music service and numbers of staff has not reduced since 2010 and we believe the slight reduction in pupils this year is down to natural fluctuations. The council is committed to nurturing creative talent and believes music is an important part of the curriculum for both primary and secondary pupils which is why we provide free instrumental lessons from P4 upwards.”