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Scottish teaching union calls for end of instrumental tuition 'postcode lottery'

7 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

Scotland's largest teaching union has called on local authorities to end charges for instrumental music lessons in schools.

Currently, 24 of Scotland’s 32 councils charge pupils up to £340 a year. The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which has more than 60,000 members, said some students were also being charged for sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) music exams. Learning and skills minister Alasdair Allan has already announced a review into the way councils charge for lessons, saying the government wanted 'greater clarity'.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said 'the postcode lottery of provision that has emerged across Scotland - with wide variations in fee policy and the level of charges for instrumental music tuition - is causing significant damage to the availability of music education for children in some parts of the country.

'A recent EIS survey of instrumental music tuition in schools found huge variations in the level of fees that pupils are expected to pay - while some councils provide free tuition in their schools or charge only for equipment hire, others are charging pupils up to £340 a year for their tuition.

'Even more worrying is the damaging practice in some local authority areas of actually charging pupils for presentation to SQA music exams. This is simply unacceptable from both an education and equality point of view and must be one of the top priorities for the new working group to address.'

A Scottish government spokesman said 'the Instrumental Music Group, chaired by David Green, and including representation from EIS, will investigate and offer recommendations on the issues of delivering instrumental music tuition, including the question of charges for pupils sitting SQA music exams. We welcome the experience that EIS will bring to the group and look forward to working with them on this issue.'

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has denied there is a 'postcode lottery for music tuition', while education secretary Mike Russell said that charging for music lessons in schools was 'undesirable but difficult to avoid'.

COSLA’s  education spokesman Douglas Chapman added, 'It is a fact that instrumental music tuition costs money and has to be paid for in some way. Local authorities that do not charge, or who apply lower charges, will still have to subsidise music tuition from other budgets. It is not a cost-free option not to charge for music tuition.'

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has set aside an extra £1m to buy musical instruments for schools. Professor John Wallace, principal of the Glasgow-based Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which will be working with councils to distribute the instruments, said the fund 'will support music education in Scotland and make music instruction more accessible. One of the biggest problems in music education is that there aren’t enough instruments to go around. They’re very expensive and often unaffordable for local authorities.'

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