Brian Monteith: Scotland will suffer from City of Edinburgh music school loss

Pupils stage a musical protest at the City Chambers about the proposed closure. Picture: Greg Macvean
Pupils stage a musical protest at the City Chambers about the proposed closure. Picture: Greg Macvean
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It will have come as a great shock to parents of pupils attending the City of Edinburgh Music School – a national centre of excellence located at Flora Stevenson Primary and Broughton High School – to hear that Edinburgh’s SNP/Labour-ruled council is aiming to cut £363,000 from costs of running the school.

Whatever councillors and officials may say, it can only mean one thing: the end of the Edinburgh City Music School in all but name.

Scottish children gifted in a variety of ways are able to apply to attend six centres of excellence in music (four schools), dance (one) and sport (one) from beyond their immediate locality.

City of Edinburgh Music School exists because the capital city was given an additional annual grant to deliver it. Now the SNP/Labour council groups propose to spend that grant on teaching beyond the music schools – as a device to disguise a cut in the overall funding of music provision in the city.

Why do we have a national centre of excellence?

By receiving teaching that focuses on such specialisms and, crucially, because pupils are brought together with others of similar aptitude and calibre, excellence is encouraged.

It means gifted and talented children are taught in smaller classes rather than larger groups with a greater spread of talent.

This is how conservatoire’s work and why the hothouse of Broughton was established and encouraged, starting out as an Edinburgh school that just happened to be good at music and then developing into the national centre of excellence that it is today.

It is an institution we should cherish and encourage, not seek to undermine. Reducing the amount of funding for Broughton can only mean one thing – it will in time become neither national nor excellent and will just become one of many schools that teach music. But not as well as was possible before.

What this means is that Edinburgh, and indeed Scotland, will over time lose this national school of excellence, whether that is the council administration’s intention or not.

This proposed cut to the music education budget is being done in the name of equity – the idea is to provide more music teaching across other Edinburgh schools so that the standard is raised more generally.

This is nothing other than a smoke screen to deliver the cuts in spending that the city councillors are facing.

It is being argued that funding can be relocated to other schools, and that more pupils will benefit as a result, but what this betrays a misunderstanding of how to teach excellence and the insufficient funding of music teaching in the past.

At the City Council’s finance committee meeting last week, the ruling administration of SNP and Labour councillors put forward a number of proposals for consultation that would cut the £21 million that needs to be saved.

Their list of proposals – simply working titles with no explanation or detail behind them – contained no alternative options.

Given the SNP/Labour councillors had already rejected in private other options prepared by officials, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the proposal to end the excellence of the national music school has their full backing. To try to reduce the level of opposition to the measure with some funding for other schools in the city is no more than the typical ploy of divide and rule. What the council should be doing is protecting its centres of excellence while considering the availability and quality of musical education.

This debate opens up the issue of teaching specialisms more generally in our schools. Would it not be helpful to have more centres of excellence in Edinburgh that specialise not just in music but in sciences and technology too? Our council is going the wrong direction and the public needs to speak out to stop it.