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22 January 2019, 07:15
Funding for music tuition in schools should be re-examined following the controversial introduction of fees by most councils across Scotland, MSPs have said.
The number of children learning to play instruments plummeted after some local authorities started charging for lessons, the Education and Skills Committee heard.
Last year, 25 of Scotland's 32 councils introduced fees of up to £524 for instrumental lessons but MSPs are now calling for changes to funding for the tuition.
An inquiry into music tuition was launched by the committee and the findings are being published on Tuesday, with a recommendation to "re-examine" charges.
Scotland faces "a tipping point for music tuition", committee convener Clare Adamson warned.
Ms Adamson said: "There is little doubt about the positive benefits that music can have on us as individuals, as communities and indeed to the wider Scottish culture and economy.
"However, for too many young people, these opportunities are being lost because of increasingly unaffordable fees. This is why our committee believes in the principle that music tuition should be free.
"However, we recognise that in many local authorities, charging for music tuition is a reality and a decision which will not have been made lightly. This does not mean there is nothing to be done.
"Local authorities must work harder to make sure that those who can afford it the least do not lose out the most.
"This is why we have recommended that the funding for these services is re-examined and that more is done to extend concessions and discounts where possible.
"Time and again we have heard this issue discussed in the Scottish Parliament. But whilst we talk, there are young people losing out. Changes must be made.
"Cosla and the Scottish Government have to do all they can to ensure that tuition is affordable and something that can be accessed by all.
"Otherwise we are in danger of reaching a tipping point for music tuition in Scotland."
During the inquiry, the committee heard evidence from West Lothian Council where almost 70% of pupils receiving music tuition dropped out after the charges - of £354 per pupil in the region - were introduced.
Of the councils who have brought in fees, the costs in 2018-19 for each pupil range from £117 in Inverclyde to £524 in Clackmannanshire.
When questioned about musical tuition by MSPs, Education Secretary John Swinney suggested some councils do not "recognise the value" of teaching children to play musical instruments but said he was not considering direct funding grants from central government for the service.
Mr Swinney said: "Some local authorities, despite all the issues that are raised generally about local authority finance, attach the priority to this that they make the eligibility for access to instrumental music tuition free.
"Some local authorities recognise the value of instrumental music tuition and want to put in place no barriers to the access of instrumental music tuition as a consequence of the decisions that they've made."
The EIS teaching union welcomed the report and said it believes music tuition should be made free to all children.
A spokeswoman added: "It has been alarming to hear of children dropping out of music lessons in great numbers because they simply cannot afford to participate.
"The benefits to be reaped from learning a musical instrument are lifelong and we support arts and culture as a means of enriching the lives of Scotland's children.
"The young people who engage with instrumental music now will be Scotland's musicians of the future and failure to invest in them will do damage to Scotland's musical heritage."
Councillor Stephen McCabe, Cosla's children and young people spokesman, said: "The report from the Education and Skills Committee in relation to instrumental music tuition is welcome. We will consider the recommendations in the report carefully before responding to the committee.
"We note that the report recognises the financial pressures on local authorities. These pressures are not insignificant. This year's draft budget sees local authorities' budgets cut by a further £237 million which, with the cumulative impact of successive cuts since 2011-12, puts councils in an extremely difficult situation.
"No local authority makes the decision to introduce or increase charges for any service lightly. However, the financial situation for local authorities continues to be difficult and as a consequence councils have faced difficult decisions about funding for essential services.
"All local authorities have committed to ensuring that that those on the lowest incomes or those who are studying for a music qualification are not subjected to charges."