Composer Sir James MacMillan has joined the campaign against cuts to musical instrument tuition in Scottish schools.
Sir James, who was composer and conductor for BBC Philharmonic from 2000 to 2009, claimed it was “odd” that free instrument lessons were being scrapped, while money could be found for technology such as virtual reality goggles.
The musician, who was born in Ayrshire, pledged his support for a petition trying to reverse the decision to charge for instrument lessons at South Ayrshire Council.
The council recently revealed plans to introduce fees from August, meaning many children will no longer be able to afford to learn. His support comes as parents and pupils fight plans to scrap strings and percussion tuition in West Lothian entirely.
A “Save Our Strings” campaign was launched to object to the proposal, which was introduced as part of a drive to save £493,000 from a budget of £993,000 for music lessons. The proposal would affect 562 pupils – 189 percussion students and 373 strings students – including violinists, guitarists and cellists.
Sir James said: “It is odd that money is being found for the strangest things in educational budgets at the same time as catastrophic cuts are taking place in music provision and tuition – virtual reality goggle boxes in East Renfrewshire schools at enormous cost, for example. Philistinism and prejudice are the main problems here. 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.
“In early childhood there seem to be benefits for the development of perceptual skills, which effect learning language subsequently impacting on literacy which is also enhanced by opportunities to develop rhythmic co-ordination.
“Fine motor co-ordination is improved through learning to play an instrument.
“Music also seems to improve spatial reasoning, one aspect of general intelligence, which is related to some of the skills required in mathematics.”
Concerns also remain in the Lothians after plans to close Edinburgh Music School were killed off in November after a campaign was mounted to persuade councillors that axing the specialist music teaching and coaching school was at odds with the cultural development of pupils across the city.
The school, based inside Broughton High in Comely Bank, was threatened with closure under council plans to redistribute the school across four sites to shave £363,000 from their annual budget as part of a new wave of cuts.
A row is ongoing after West Lothian also looked to alter its provisions.
Sir James added: “It seems a shame that it will be the poorer children who will miss out on a vital ingredient of their education.”
Fellow composer Jay Capperauld said: “I know that the success of the comprehensive education system lies in the accessibility of resources.”