‘If it happens here other Councils will follow’: Midlothian parent on ’emotional’ pupil-led campaign to save music tuition

Ben Wray

Nearly 12,000 people have signed the petition to stop the music tuition cuts

  • Midlothian council to face pupil-led protest when they discuss plans on Tuesday 12 February to become first council to scrap all music tuition for pupils prior to S4 and S5
  • Parent with two children who receive music tuition tells CommonSpace there is “a huge amount of anger” over planned cuts
  • Council leaders say that they have £11.5 million funding gap and thus need to focus on preserving core education and care services
  • Question marks over the legality of cutting music tuition entirely; Holyrood committee found in January that all music tuition should be free
  • Music tuition linked to improving attainment, community wellbeing and all-round pupil development

AHEAD of a protest by school students outside Midlothian Council on Tuesday [12 February], a parent has explained to CommonSpace the importance of the growing pupil-led campaign to save music tuition in the local area.

Councillors are set to be met by the sounds of pipe bands and orchestras outside their council building in Dalkeith, where they are meeting to discuss plans to be the first council in Scotland to scrap music tuition altogether, for school students before S4 and S5. 

Many councils across Scotland have cut the amount of free music tuition they provide as they grapple with reduced budgets. Moray Council  are set to charge nearly £700 per year for instrumental lessons. But Midlothian would be the first to get rid of it entirely, despite the Scottish Parliament Education Committee finding in January after an investigation into declining funding for instrumental lessons that music tuition should be provided in all councils, free of charge.

Tracey Rap, who is part of community concert bands in Midlothian, received music tuition when she was at school, and two of her children receive it today. She told CommonSpace that the plans to cut all music tuition had provoked a “huge amount of anger”.

READ MORE: Analysis: The grim plight of austerity in Moray Council could be just the start unless big change comes to Local Government soon

“It’s really devastating, and there’s an understanding that if it is allowed to happen in this Council other councils will follow.”

She explained that the decision to only provide music tuition for S4 and S5 – in a plan which will see nine of 19 music tuition staff made unemployed – would effectively mean scrapping music tuition altogether.

“The worst thing is they are not even saying that you can pay for music tuition for pupils before they reach S4-S5. What that means is that pupils will inevitably not take the music tuition in S4 and S5, because no students will be getting the tuition before then and it takes years to learn an instrument. It’s ridiculous, really.”

Not all councils are pursuing cuts to music tuition. North Lanarkshire Council has increased its investment in music tuition, seeing it as a crucial tool to reduce the attainment gap – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s priority aim for this term of the Scottish Parliament. That’s been backed up by the EIS teachers union and a number of academics, and Rap said it’s benefits are well documented.

READ MORE: Whitehill pool campaigners celebrate anti-cuts victory but vow continued resistance

“It’s so important,” she said. “It’s not just me or the pupils saying that, there’s research showing its benefits to mental health, planning, team work; it’s such a useful ability in so many ways.”

Ralph Riddiough, who petitioned the Scottish Government over the introduction of music tuition fees, has told Edinburgh Evening News that the scrapping of music tuition would see local bands and orchestras shut down. Rap was clear that the community benefits of music instruction were indispensable.

“For children that aren’t sporty, it’s also a way of making bonds, finding like-minded people and doing something active together. What’s the alternative? Video games and nonsense on the streets. Music tuition is something that’s good for the whole community, not just pupils.”

Labour council leader Derek Milligan has said he is “devastated” by the planned cuts, but with a £11.5 million funding gap the Labour-Conservative Council had to focus on “preserving the core education and care services Midlothian residents depend on.”

READ MORE: Last minute deal with Greens sees Scottish budget secured

He also argued that the austerity measures “do not scrap all music tuition” because “pupils will still get music in schools as part of the normal curriculum”, but Rap said that music taught as part of the curriculum was not comparable with the instrumental lessons received in music tuition.

“Music in the curriculum is more music appreciation; it’s learning the basics of music. It’s not playing, it’s not being in a band – it doesn’t have the benefits of getting together and playing concerts.”

Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney responded to a question at First Minister’s Questions last Thursday [7 February] about the cuts at Midlothian Council by saying that he would encourage the local authority “to reflect on that position”, and when asked on the legality of charging for music instruction when it is part of SQA’s exams, Swinney said he believed it was “crystal clear” that it was not legal to do so, but he would look into the matter to confirm.

Rap said that the Scottish Government “should be stepping in”.

READ MORE: Robin McAlpine: Karine Polwart’s finances make me wonder what the hell we really value

“We’ve written letters to the Scottish Parliament and so have the pupils,” she said. “I think it’s a form of prejudice against musical young people, it’ s not right and it’s not fair – it will hurt those who can’t afford to pay for music tuition privately the most.”

The protest on Tuesday will be lead by pupils currently receiving music tuition in the local authority, and Rap said that their determination to oppose the cuts was inspirational.

“I think it’s amazing, it makes me emotional talking about it. How often do you get people at that age, banding together, to campaign for something they really care about? They’ve been practising the songs they are going to sing on Tuesday – it’s fantastic.”

Nearly 12,000 people have now signed the 38degrees petition against the cuts to music tuition in Midlothian Council.

Picture courtesy of CaseyLessard

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