Lesley Johnston: Music school closure would be a ‘scandal’

Xander Proud with Piano Teacher Lynda Cochrane during an open day last year
Xander Proud with Piano Teacher Lynda Cochrane during an open day last year
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The former head of Broughton High reacts to news that the council is considering scrapping its renowned music school.

“In 2005 I was honoured and excited to take over as Head Teacher of Broughton High School. Inclusivity and high aspiration are two of my core educational principles.

READ MORE: Council cutbacks could close renowned music school

Broughton is a multi-cultural school – the students have some 100 home languages – serving a diverse community from the New Town to some of Scotland’s most socially deprived areas.

Nowhere is this better reflected than in the music school. It was established as one of Scotland’s five music centres of excellence to allow talented young people from all backgrounds to develop their musical talents. The range is very broad. In addition to classical and traditional music, you will find jazz, folk and pop. This is reflected in the range of alumni including Martyn Bennet, Tommy Smith and Shirley Manson. Unlike many specialist music schools this is free to all.

The original funding model for the school involved separate money received from the Scottish Government being applied directly. For administrative reasons this was changed some years ago, and Edinburgh Council have for some time been dipping more and more into funds which were intended to support artistic excellence. I am told that a council officer has had the idea of dividing these talented students among other schools. I have rarely heard anything so foolish, despite spending nearly 40 years in education. When the new school building was built in 2009 it incorporated state of the art facilities, including performance spaces and sound proof rehearsal rooms. Are these to go to waste? More fundamentally, music is not a solitary activity. Musicians achieve excellence through practising and performing in ensembles. I am a member of Edinburgh Festival Chorus. This suggestion is akin to saying that I could learn a piece at home by myself, then turn up to sing with an international conductor in the Festival. We wouldn’t keep our international status for terribly long.

At the last inspection, in a glowing report, HM Inspector of schools praised the specialist provision as one of the finest things in the school. It pointed out that the dedication and hard work of the musicians rubbed off on others and helped raise attainment across the board.

It would be a scandal if, in the year we celebrate 70 years of the world’s largest arts festival, Edinburgh were to be deprived of a facility to produce its future performers. This proposal is as ludicrous as it is ill-considered.”

Lesley Johnston was rector of Broughton High from 2005-2011