West Lothian Council votes to charge for music tuition

Dave Gornall and his daughter Abby are among those affected by music tuition changes introduced by West Lothian Council
Dave Gornall and his daughter Abby are among those affected by music tuition changes introduced by West Lothian Council
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West Lothian council has voted to retain strings and percussion tuition in schools through the introduction of an across-the-board fee of £354 a year per child for all music disciplines – scrapping proposals to keep tuition free, but axe strings and percussion lessons.

The council said it wanted to keep instrument lessons free for youngsters, but argued that to do so, it would need to cut lessons in percussion and stringed instruments entirely.

However, it was forced to poll parents by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, which expressed concern that children’s human rights had been breached. A total of 53 per cent of parents voted to introduce fees and keep existing instruments.

Yvonne Hall, spokeswoman for the Save Our Strings campaign, said, “We are pleased that the Education Executive has recognised that people would rather pay for a service than see it cut altogether.

“Just a few months ago, IMS in West Lothian was set to be scrapped all together and we have, in fact, been left with a 50 per cent cut in funding. It is disappointing to see a service which has taken over 25 years to develop be decimated in such a fashion.

She added: “We believe the £354 is vastly inflated.

“We had worked out a figure of £5 per week to cover the first year’s costs while we launch a Charitable Trust which would be able to apply for funding not available to the council and allow us to mitigate the impact of charges.”

She added that the 
organisation would file a Participation Request with the council to request that it works with the group to look at ways to reduce the cost to families.

The so-called “crisis” in music tuition in Scotland has attracted criticism from international musicians – with one Swedish conductor calling the cuts “cynical” – while other Scots stars, including violinist Nicola Benedetti and composer James MacMillan, have joined forces to back campaigns to save lessons.

Free tuition will remain for children in receipt of free school meals, looked after children and high school students studying for SQA exams in music.

There will also be a 50 per cent reduction in fees for siblings.

Ralph Riddioch, who has launched a Scottish Parliament petition to campaign for free music tuition in schools, said: “The fees will result in children being excluded.

“That is a fact. They will result in numbers dropping, creating risk that instructors will be made redundant. It is a delayed execution, not a reprieve.”

A total of 23 councils, including West Lothian, now bill parents for musical instrument lessons, with annual prices ranging from £117 in Inverclyde to £318 in the Highlands, while a few charge a fee for the annual hire of instruments.

In Clackmannanshire, recent proposals to be implemented in the new school year will more than double the annual cost of lessons from £258.40 to £524.

This works out at around £17.50 per lesson, meaning that the cost of a 30-minute group class – where children can share a teacher with three or four other young musicians – now costs more per head than a private lesson of the same length.