Catherine Fullerton: Protect free musical instrument tuition in city schools

The workings of the council budget are perhaps a mystery to most of you.

Thursday, 8th September 2016, 1:30 pm
Updated Monday, 12th September 2016, 5:17 pm
Mardi Gras on the Grassmarket as calls for music classes to be upkept. Picture Steven Scott Taylor

The annual process of how to allocate the small amount of money available after statutory duties are funded – education, carers, social work, transport – is greatly debated in the political groups over the course of many months.

We instruct officers to come forward with ideas on what could be reduced, cut or redesigned to free up funds for other new demands and also, of course, to balance the budget.

Many of these ideas we, as elected members, consider with regard to what we feel our constituents would prefer the money to be spent on.

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However, one of the areas that the SNP group has agreed is not up for any cut is instrumental music tuition in our schools. We have persuaded our coalition partners that the £1.7m the officers proposed to remove is not an option. Why?

The council has tried to ensure equal opportunity for pupils to learn an instrument. Some local authorities already charge for their music tuition, but this has led to a decline in the number of pupils taking up an instrument.

We know from experience that children who study music increase their reading skills and vocabularies and those with learning disabilities and dyslexia improve their focus and concentration – research is available to support these assumptions.

Schools with music programmes have higher attendance and graduation rates compared to those without music education. so I hope you will agree it’s worth the investment.

I have seen firsthand the great team building skills, punctuality and organisation that our junior orchestras, bands and choirs create. I have watched the camaraderie and pride when they perform.

Dr David McGuiness, a senior lecturer in music at Glasgow University, said earlier this year learning an instrument in school and being part of an orchestra or band provided “powerful lessons” for future life”.

The ward I represent has, sadly, the highest level of child poverty in the city. Why should the pupils in the less wealthy homes not have the opportunity to play an instrument? It could be the way out of poverty for some and a tool for others to cope with a chaotic home life.

Music lifts us all and is a way to communicate internationally. I believe passionately that we need to invest in our children, and giving every pupil a chance to learn an instrument is an investment I am prepared to fight for – what about you?

Catherine Fullerton is SNP councillor for the Sighthill/Gorgie ward and vice-convener of the education, children and families committee