West Lothian council to consult parents on music cuts

Parents are set to be consulted
Parents are set to be consulted
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FAMILIES are to be consulted over controversial plans to cut music tuition in West Lothian following an outcry over the move.

The council’s proposal to axe strings and percussion tuition entirely but continue with free brass, woodwind and piping lessons prompted widespread criticism, including an intervention by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner’s office.

It wrote to the council, quoting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which says all children should receive “education directed towards the development of their personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential”.

Composer Sir James MacMillan also hit out, saying: “We make powerful arguments over and over again that music should be one of the basics, but it’s hard getting through the tough exteriors of some who don’t want to hear.”

The council has agreed to cut its music tuition budget from £993,000 to £500,000.

But now a series of options will be considered, including allowing strings and percussion tuition to continue, but introducing a charge; continuing strings tuition, but at the expense of a reduction in brass tuition; or charging across all disciplines.

A survey form is to be sent to the families of all pupils who currently receive music tuition to find out their views.

The findings will be reported back to councillors in time for a decision to be made at a meeting of the education executive on May 29.

The council will also consider establishing a charity or an arms-length organisation to deliver music tuition in future.

The council’s education leader Councillor David Dodds said: “We are aware there are strong views about the instrumental music service in West Lothian, and we would like to know the views of as many families involved as possible.”

He said West Lothian was one of very few local authorities in Scotland which still offered free instrumental music tuition.

“Instrumental music is not a statutory service therefore does not have to be provided by the council, and we do not currently provide tuition in every musical discipline.”

And he highlighted the financial squeeze on the council from central government.

“We are facing estimated budget savings of £65 million over the next five years, so it is essential we make savings across the council to allow us to balance our budget. The money we receive from the Scottish Government is significantly less than we need to cover rising costs for our growing young and older populations in particular.

“We are also calling on Scottish Government ministers, who provide the council with the majority of our funding, to reverse their policy of making real terms cuts, which would allow us to support a full, free instrumental music service.”

The Save Our Strings campaign welcomed the consultation, tweeting: “We’re back in the game.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com