Supporters of instrumental music in schools urged to fight council proposals

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Barely 18 months after parents and teachers fought proposals by Midlothian Council to cut instrumental music tuition in schools in a bid to save money in its annual budget – a plan that was eventually overturned – East Ayrshire Council officers have now come up with a scheme to outsource its service provision to a charitable leisure trust.

Once again, campaigners for the retention of instrumental music services (IMS) as part of the educational syllabus are voicing their objections to transfer the provision to the East Ayrshire Leisure Trust for the 2025/26 academic year in a bid to help the council plug an estimated budget gap of £32 million.

The SNP Government scrapped charges for learning an instrument in Scotland in 2021. As a result of this decision there has been a significant increase in the number of pupils taking music lessons.

East Ayrshire is the latest of a number of local authorities reviewing how their instrumental music services are administered with a view to saving money, including – reportedly – East Lothian and West Lothian, Perth & Kinross and North Lanarkshire councils.

Now Carrie Boax, president of the Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA), is disappointed by another ostensible challenge to the pledge that instrumental music tuition in schools would be free of charge, a concession that was hard won from the Scottish Government after a national campaign.

“Music education isn’t just about learning to play an instrument and reading dots on a page,” she said. “It teaches children life skills like discipline, confidence, self-assurance, competitiveness, application, teamwork and inter-personal relationships, among other things, and so the sooner that this type of tuition can start in schools the better the long-term advantages.”

Long-time campaigner for instrumental tuition in schools, solicitor Ralph Riddiough, who plays principal trombone with Kilmarnock Concert Brass, is concerned the move by East Ayshire Council could open the door for the potential reintroduction of fees for music lessons across Scotland.

“School education should be delivered by education authorities, not financially precarious arm’s length leisure trusts,” he said. “There are lots of comments and column inches about the benefits of music and the joy it brings.

“We need to keep the fact that IMSs deliver school education squarely in focus. Hobbies and after school clubs have benefits and bring joy. The reason music is in the firing line every year is that council officers and councillors don’t understand, or accept, that our IMSs deliver ‘school education’.”

Scotland's largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), has also raised concerns about the East Ayrshire Council proposals.

The union's general secretary Andrea Bradley is reported as saying: "It is wholly lamentable that East Ayrshire Council would seek to advance such controversial proposals without engaging in meaningful and transparent consultation with trade unions.

"This ill-thought through proposal will see members of staff, who are employed in nationally agreed terms and conditions, removed from local authority employment and placed in an arm's length trust. It is wholly unclear what the ramifications may be in the medium to long term for those staff members affected. "

Andrea Bradley added: "These proposals also fail fundamentally to recognise the vital contribution which instrumental music teachers make to educational outcomes for children and young people.

“With performance representing 50 per cent of the assessment in National Qualifications in Music, IMS teachers deliver essential tuition to prepare young people to complete SQA practical assessments to the requisite standard."

John Wallace, former principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and patron of SBBA, has said: “They have got absolutely stellar staff in East Ayrshire – I know most of them personally and they are very distinguished.

“I just don’t see them staying under the new circumstances, because I don’t think pay and conditions will be as good. It’s just going to be dilution of the quality of what has been an exemplary service. It’s a very retrograde step for music education.”

EAC officials say instrumental music is generally offered through independent music trusts in much of the rest of the UK, although in Scotland the only area is Highland, where the service was transferred to High Life Highland in 2018.

The council has stated that at present these were "just proposals to go before councillors at an upcoming council meeting." Councillors are expected to make a final decision on the proposals later in the year after a phase of “meaningful consultation”.

In the meantime, Ralph Riddiough is urging all supporters of brass and instrumental learning provision in schools to make their objections on these proposals known to their local councillors.

“I’m going to fight this proposal and I ask all parents whose child is learning to play in East Ayrshire schools to join me,” he said. “EAC has accepted the recommendation to investigate this option further and a fuller report is due in October at which point we need the scheme to be withdrawn.

“In my personal opinion, what East Ayshire Council is trying to do is unlawful. Teachers need to be employed by councils – not charities, not community groups, not social enterprises.

“There is a legal argument waiting to be made that transferring an education service to a third party – not outsourcing or subcontracting, but actually hiving it off – is unlawful. Hiving off a council swimming pool or a library into a leisure trust is one thing. Transferring teachers is a totally different ball game and it needs to nipped in the bud."

Ralph is currently organising a flash mob to play outside the council offices at 9am on Thursday 31 October when the councillors are expected to vote on the IMS proposals.

Keep up to date with developments at #changethetune

How to make your objections heard

If you have a child learning to play a musical instrument in school in the EAC area or if you feel strongly that IMS should be kept as part of the education curriculum, you can make your feelings known to your local East Ayrshire Council representative here.

You can also contact your representative in the following council areas to make your feelings in support of IMS in schools:

East Lothian councillors

West Lothian councillors

Perth & Kinross councillors

North Lanarkshire councillors

You could even include these links to articles which extol the benefits of instrumental music tuition in schools way beyond just learning to play:


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