Revealed: the post-code lottery of school music education

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By a Newsnet reporter

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, which represents the majority of the country’s music teachers, has submitted evidence to the Scottish Government’s Education and Culture Committee which shows that Scotland’s local authorities are making a profit of nearly £3 million pounds from provision of instrumental music tuition for school children.

By a Newsnet reporter

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, which represents the majority of the country’s music teachers, has submitted evidence to the Scottish Government’s Education and Culture Committee which shows that Scotland’s local authorities are making a profit of nearly £3 million pounds from provision of instrumental music tuition for school children.

The figure was obtained through a series of questions sent via Freedom of Information Requests to every local authority in the country.  Five questions were asked about the numbers of pupils who paid fees and how much they pay. A question was also put about whether pupils taking Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) music examinations were charged for music tuition.

The key findings were as follows:

6 councils indicated that they charge students entered for SQA music examinations.

8 out of 32 councils have no charge for instrumental music tuition.

Out of the 24 councils that charge for music tuition the individual annual charge ranges from £95 to £340 annually.

The net revenue generated for each council ranges from none to £523,000.

The discrepancy in the level of fees imposed reveals a postcode lottery in the provision of instrumental music tuition where geographical location and financial circumstance is more important than aptitude.  Pupils in Aberdeen City pay £340 a year while pupils in council areas including West Dunbartonshire and Glasgow pay nothing.  

EIS General Secretary, Larry Flanagan, commented on the figures saying:

“It is truly shocking, at a time of deep cuts to music tuition in schools across Scotland, that local authorities are collectively raking in profits of almost £3 million from charges for music tuition. Education should be about providing an equal opportunity for all to benefit and learn but, sadly, in the case of music instruction a small number of pupils are being charged a heavy price for developing their talents in music.

“Curriculum for Excellence places encouraging creativity at the heart of pupils’ educational experience, but cuts to music instruction are undermining this central founding principal of Curriculum for Excellence.”

In their award winning Charter for Instrumental Music, the EIS state:

“There is now substantial research evidence which demonstrates that learning a musical instrument or to sing can enhance a child’s cultural, social and educational learning.”

They cite a 2001 US study entitled ‘Does playing a musical instrument make a child smarter?’ which states:

“In every single test area, students who were learning to play an instrument and participating in the school band or orchestra received higher marks than their classmates.  Not only that but the longer the school children had been in the instrumental programmes the higher they scored.”

Studies like the one above show the importance of providing all of Scotland’s school pupils with equal opportunity to learn to sing or play a musical instrument.  Our own experience here in Scotland with Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise Orchestra in Raploch, Stirling, back up the findings of the US study.  The Scottish Government commissioned an independent evaluation of Big Noise which found that:

“There is evidence that Big Noise is having a positive impact on childrens’ personal and social development, including increased confidence, self esteem, a sense of achievement and pride, increased social skills, team working skills and expanding social networks.  For those children with special educational needs, behaviour issues or unsettled home lives, particular benefits include a sense of belonging, improved ability to concentrate and focus on a task, a sense of responsibility and positive behaviour change.”

It is early days and the long term effect of Big Noise is not certain but the report says that it is “well placed to achieve a range of outcomes, including greater engagement in learning, higher academic performance, reduction in negative and health harming behaviours, benefits to families, employers and communities and better employability skills.”

It would be unfortunate if, in the frenzy of this summer of sport, the powerful effect that instrumental music can have on young people were to be overlooked.