Scotland’s schools are “rapidly moving” to having only students from wealthy families able to afford music lessons, teachers’ leaders have warned.
The EIS trade union spoke out about the “unjust and unacceptable” situation, as it noted that 27 of the country’s councils have some form of charging regime in place.
This can see schools asking parents to pay tuition fees for music lessons, instrument hire charges or a combination of both – leaving only five local authority areas where music lessons are free.
The union said a rise in charges was “even more worrying” – noting that in some parts of Scotland the annual cost of school music lessons can top £300, with charges reaching £524 for one year in one local authority.
In areas where no charges are imposed, the number of pupils studying music has increased by almost a third (31.4%) since 2012-13, it said.
But it contrasted this with authorities with charges, saying there has been a 12.7% fall in the number of music students over the same period.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Scotland is rapidly moving towards a scenario where only children from well-off families can learn to play an instrument. This is unjust and unacceptable.
“We must reverse the trend of charging to allow free access to music education for all, particularly those for whom the poverty-related attainment gap has widened as a result of Covid-19.”
He spoke out as the EIS raised concerns about the “damaging impact” of the coronavirus pandemic on music tuition in schools – particularly for those currently studying the subject for SQA qualifications and for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The EIS said there have been “inconsistent approaches” in music lessons, saying specialist teachers have been unable to return to school safely in some areas, and are having to adapt their teaching for online classes.
The union has particular concerns about the future delivery of tuition in voice, wind and brass, saying teachers in these areas “anxiously wait to hear whether they can safely return to face-to-face teaching in schools”.
Meanwhile the EIS stressed Covid-19 risk assessments need to take account of the requirements for music teaching, including the need for ample space and well-ventilated rooms.
It also fears that a reduction in teaching caused by the pandemic could lead to fewer students studying music – with this potentially putting specialist music teacher posts in jeopardy.
The union has said it will “continue to defend the provision of instrumental music tuition for the benefit of children and young people and for society as a whole”.
Responding to the EIS, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Music education is of enormous benefit to young people and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions to help ensure instrumental music remains accessible to all.
“Local authorities are responsible for ensuring all children and young people have access to the full curriculum, including the expressive arts, and councils should consider the benefits that learning a musical instrument can have on wellbeing and on attainment.
“We know that Covid-19 has brought additional challenges for music tuition in schools.”
She continued: “Education Scotland has worked with teachers across the country to collect and share emerging practical examples of how teachers are managing music learning under Covid-19.
“Creative ideas include the use of music technology apps on smartphones, running online masterclasses with professional musicians, and using technological solutions to facilitate rich and rewarding physically distanced lessons.
“The experience of lockdown shows that access to technology and digital capability is, and will remain, a fundamental aspect of education in Scotland. That is why we are investing £25 million to address digital exclusion in schools.”