Midlothian Council set to be first in Scotland to axe school music tuition

Group of students playing in a school orchestra together
Group of students playing in a school orchestra together
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Midlothian council is set to become the first Scottish local authority to entirely axe all musical instrument tuition in its schools – bar for children who are studying for Higher or National Five exams in the subject.

The council spoke to its instrumental music service staff on Wednesday, telling them that nine of its 12 full time equivalent posts would be cut under new proposals aimed at filling a multi-million pound hole in the council’s budget.

It is expected that the proposals, which would see no children below S4 level at high school offered instrument tuition at school, will be unveiled next week ahead of the authority’s budget meeting on 12 February.

Separately, Moray Council has unveiled plans to increase charges for instrumental lessons to £699 a year – the highest in Scotland.

The move comes less than two weeks after an investigation by Holyrood’s education committee told Scotland’s councils that instrument tuition should remain free.

A campaign was launched last year after many local authorities introduced fees for musical instrument tuition or increased existing fees for students, which critics said made it unaffordable for many pupils. Midlothian – which currently charges parents £205.50 a year for instrument tuition in primary and high schools – was the only council in Scotland to charge fees for instrumental lessons for youngsters sitting SQA examinations in music, who under Scottish Government regulations, must not have to pay for their own tuition.

Campaigner Ralph Riddiough, who petitioned the Scottish Government over the introduction of music tuition fees in schools, described the move as “the final blow”.

He said: “We are witnessing the withdrawal of a subject from the curriculum. This will just completely destroy music education and a lot of children will not be able to learn an instrument any other way.”

He added that without the system of music in schools, features such as local bands and orchestras – usually run by council-employed music teachers – would not be able to exist, leaving youngsters who do begin an instrument in S4 without an outlet to play with other musicians.

A spokeswoman for the council said that it was considering proposed savings recommended to bridge an £11.52 million shortfall in the council’s budget this year.

She said: “Council officers are still finalising savings measures to present to council. They are also assessing the impact of today’s [budget] announcement. Councillors will consider the budget savings measures at the next full council meeting on Tuesday 12 February. No decisions have been made on these.”

Earlier this week, it emerged that the £11.5m shortfall in Midlothian Council’s budget will see its pledge to deliver excellence changed to delivering “minimum service”, according to its leader.

Councillor Derek Milligan said the estimated gap in funding for the coming year was “absolutely horrendous”.

He warned fellow councillors that the local authority would have to make more cuts and consider providing statutory services only as it tried to make savings while under increased financial pressure.