Midlothian Council put music tuition cuts back on the table

A musical flash mob  outside the council chambers in Dalkeith in February. Photo by Lisa Ferguson.
A musical flash mob outside the council chambers in Dalkeith in February. Photo by Lisa Ferguson.

Midlothian Council has reignited proposals to become the first Scottish council to entirely cut provision of music and dance tuition in schools from next year.

This controversial move comes just months after similar moves were scrapped following widespread opposition and a protest in February.

The new proposals to plug a budget shortfall would see the number of music teachers employed by the council cut by eight full-time equivalent posts to just three, and music tuition axed for all except those pupils studying for an SQAexam in music – such as a Higher or National Five – who would be taught through an arms-length hub.

Alternatively, the council said, it could move to a “full cost recovery model”, which would see fees hiked to £675 a year for a group lesson – more than many private instrumental lessons.

Under the first option, the council would create an arms-length “music collaborative” through which pupils could pay fees for music tuition privately following a model already used in England and Wales. It is not currently clear whether those classes could be held during school time or on school premises.

Under any of the proposals, additional tuition in dance and drama would also be affected.

In a document due to be put before the full council today (Tuesday), the plans said the move was necessary to due a budget shortfall and because the number of pupils taking music lessons had fallen by 39 per cent following the introduction of fees a year ago.

The council increased the cost of music lessons last year, which is likely to have impacted on the number of children taking lessons.

Midlothian – which charges fees of £205.50 a year for instrument tuition in primary and high schools – is the only council in Scotland to charge schools £700 a year fees for instrumental lessons for youngsters sitting SQA exams in music, who under Scottish Government regulations must not have to pay for their own tuition. In other areas, it is paid out of council funds rather than schools’ budgets.

The council papers said that income received was £165,000 from parents and £290,000 from recharging schools for pupils undertaking SQA exams – making a total of £455,000.

However, it argued that more cuts were necessary for the service to run “within budget” at £211,000.

Kirk Richardson, convenor of the EIS Instrumental Teachers Network said: “It looks like they were trying to sneak this in under the radar. It is quite incredible.”

Midlothian South MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) said: “It seems a lot like Labour in Midlothian Council taking the first steps to privatising education. It flies in the face of equality in education to put a price on learning music and gives the impression that Midlothian Council see creative subjects as an expendable luxury rather than an essential part of the curriculum. The public have already made their feelings on these cuts crystal clear when they were proposed previously – they do not want them. Midlothian Council must listen and take these damaging proposals off the table once and for all.”

A spokeswoman for Midlothian Council said: “The current way of delivering this service is not financially viable, especially given the council as a whole is facing a budget shortfall of £4.6 million in the next financial year rising to £18.8m in 2022/23. In the interests of the public pound, we are, therefore, looking at offering creative arts in a different way in coming years.”