Arts for all! SEAS views on free music tuition in Scottish education



SEA Scotland welcomes the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skils Committee’s Inquiry into Music Tuition in Schools.  It is heartening to read that the voices of young people, musicians, parents, carers, teachers, trade unions, experts and researchers are being taken into account by the Inquiry.

SEA Scotland draws on these voices and our collective knowledge of the Scottish education system in this submission.  The submissions to date speak of the value, and added value, of music in the curriculum, of playing a musical instrument and the impact ofthis school experience on personal development, qualifications, employment, lifelong learning and a lifelong love of music.

In this submission SEA Scotland will focus particularly on the Principles of Equality of Access, Inclusion and Quality. This submission will also highlight the positive contribution which music makes to Raising Attainment and Achievement in the broadest sense.

Equality of Access

To ensure equality of access, as a point of principle, SEA Scotland submits that Instrumental Music Tuition (IMT) should be offered free for all of Scotland’s children and young people in state schools.  

Education in Scotland’s state schools is free.  Therefore IMT in state schools should be free.  There is evidence from the EIS and others that in local authorities where they have increased charges for IMT, the uptake has fallen and many children have stopped having Instrumental Music Tuition.  Where armslength charitable organisations take responsibility for music tuition, re-designed access models increase numbers but not necessarily quality of experience.   Where there are no charges, the uptake has increased significantly.

What can the Scottish Government learn from the past in terms of equality of access?

In the past, there was an attempt at a ‘universalist’ model of access to music, embedded in initial primary teacher training and in every child’s weekly experience in primary and secondary schools up to S2.  Trainee primary teachers had to learn at least one musical instrument e.g. voice, recorder, piano, as part of their studies which included reading music (ref: Diploma in Primary Education).  This ensured that music was taught to Scottish children as part of a planned, broad and balanced primary curriculum. In addition, all children in Scotland, often from P4 to P7 and S1 and S2, were taught to read music to sing, play the Recorder or another string, wind, keyboard or percussion instrument depending on the skill of the class teacher or the availability of a cluster specialist music teacher and / or an instrumental music tutor linked to the availability of staffing and instruments.  Children with a musical interest could follow a pathway to play musical instruments into secondary education, although access to these opportunities was far from perfect and the selection criteria was not entirely clear to many parents of primary or secondary aged children.  Parents were often asked to make a small financial contribution towards tuition. Children whose parents could afford private tuition outwith the school setting in addition to paying a nominal sum for tuition in school were doubly advantaged, but music was available to all. Music specialists were allocated to a cluster of primaries and a secondary school where a GTC registered music teacher would support primary schools predominantly with notation, singing, choirs and some percussion. Music Tutors would provide tuition to those with an interest or an aptitude in a particular instrument. Music Tutors would also teach secondary school learners in instruments necessary to achieve music qualifications and many would often manage and support a school band, choir or orchestra.

SEA Scotland is concerned that there now appears to be a failure by the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the contribution that IMT can make to raising attainment and achievement for all learners. With continuing cuts to local authority budgets, cutbacks have led to a failure to ensure that learners have quality access to musical instruments and a serious reduction in specialist staffing over the years. Since 2007, there has been a reduction of 350 Instrumental Music Tutors in Scotland’s schools.  There has also been year on year increases in charges for music tuition in many local authorities. Some parents have expressed concerns about value for money e.g. children being offered 20 minute school group lessons in the context of increasing cost of councilcharges almost reaching parity with individual private lessons.  

Budget decisions to introduce charges, or to increase the cost of IMT to parents, may bebecause in the eyes of the decision makers, music may not have parity or equal value when compared to other subjects, such as science.  Science incidentally, has a high cost in terms of expendable materials but learners are not normally charged for science materials.  

SEA Scotland does not consider the Scottish Government can claim there is Equality of Access to all educational opportunities given the variations in charging policy across Scotland. There is also a wide range of concessionary charges across Scotland as children receiving free school meals and / or clothing grants are often offered lessons free of charge but then some authorities charge for instrument hire, which surely undermines the purpose of concessions.  If IMT was free for all interested learners there would be no need for such diversity in charging and concessionary models. Without that, at least a more consistent approach is required to guarantee equality of opportunity.  

As a country, Scotland needs to challenge those decision makers who do not value IMT and see the withdrawal of its free availability as a way of saving money. Indeed, there are some local authorities who have transferred their IMT service to armslength companies whose objective is to raise income. There are fears that this model of service delivery will result in increased group sizes, reduced teaching time in schools and moving Music Tutors to schools with the potential for raising a higher income i.e. schools in affluent areas.

SEA Scotland submits that there is serious inequality across local authority areas and within local authority schools in Scotland. Sadly, it is in some areas of deprivation that music tuition fees are increasing year on year with no clear national rationale or guidance to ensure equality of access to IMT throughout Scotland. Evidence from local authorities reveals that places given up by learners who cannot afford increased charges are taken up by learners from more affluent post codes.

In secondary schools, learners taking a SQA qualification in Music require proficiency in at least two musical instruments, one of which may be voice.  These students therefore require Music Tuition. They may have started learning a musical instrument in primary school to achieve the level of proficiency required at SQA level.  It is essential therefore that having access to Music Tuition is seen as a right to progression throughout schooling whichcan only be guaranteed when those who are tutoring are trained to a high and consistent standard across Scotland.  SEA Scotland urges the Scottish Government to invest in the Continuing Professional Development of music professionals in schools, at tertiary and higher levels in the education system.

Can Scotland learn lessons from the experience of other parts of the UK? The Daily Telegraph, not known for criticising austerity as political choice, recently carried an article headlined Music in State Schools Facing an Existential Crisis. Lord Black, chair of the Royal College of Music, warned that music is literally disappearing from our (i.e. English)schools pointing out that instead of music being ‘the right of all children’ it’s now becomethe preserve of the privileged few at independent schools as it dies in the public sector. He cites the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) that led to music being “downgraded and punished” since secondary schools have no incentive to offer music as aGCSE subject. The result is that one in five schools in England has given up teaching music entirely with a 23% decline in students since 2010 studying GCSE this year, while entries for A level music have declined by 40% since 2011. ‘Those shameful figures are part of a wider picture of music in decline in our schools,” he said.  Sadly, there is a view held by some governments, at all levels, that the utilitarian use of knowledge should be focused only on some subjects which are promoted as being vital for ‘economic progress. The Scottish Government must guard against the narrow and faulty ‘utilitarian approachto music education currently seen in England.

SEA Scotland calls on the Scottish Government to welcome and support themovement which promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) subjects.  This is a balanced approach to education which recognises that the arts, music, literature and the creative industries are equally important to a thriving economy and society and which contribute equally to ‘meaningful employment’ and gross domestic product.  We must guard against attempts at social engineering – creating a school system to meet the needs of a narrow interpretation of ‘the economy at a cost whichdisadvantages the broadest and fullest cognitive and creative potential of our children and denies our young people future employment and fulfilment in the creative industries.  

SEA Scotland regret that music tuition has been down-graded from being central to the music curriculum under Curriculum for Excellence and challenge those in Scottish Education who argue that music tuition should be merely ‘extra-curricular’.Learning to read music and play an instrument is an important educational experience in addition to being a lifeskill which should have a mainstream curriculum entitlement if Scotland is to maintain the quality of our education system.


Children with additional support needs should have opportunities to access musical instruments.  There are many examples of the use of music in contributing to thedevelopment, mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people.  In addition, it is important that every local authority employs Music Therapists, especially for children with additional support needs, including social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  

Raising Attainment and Achievement

The Scottish Government should commit to ensuring access to instrumental music tuition as a right for all children as part of a strategy to raise attainment and achievement.  Evidence has been submitted to the Inquiry from young people, who extol the value of music to their own personal development, to their positive mental health, and recognition of the social value of music from their experience of learning and playing in musical groups. A 10year research study in America tracked 25,000 middle and high school students and discovered music-making students, regardless of socio-economic background, got higher marks on standardised tests (sic) than those who have little or nomusic involvement.  A study at British Columbia put to rest the theory that time spent on music tuition is time wasted as it took away from ‘mainstream’ subjects.  The research concluded that music participation benefits students in ways that are directly or indirectly linked to higher academic achievement in general and social development.

The SEA Scotland calls the Scottish Government’s attention to the substantial research of Dr Anita Collins of the University of Canberra in Australia.  Dr Collins is an award-winning educator, neuroscientist, researcher and writer in the field of brain development and music learning.  Following a personal experience in which learning a musical instrument improved her own cognitive learning abilities, she spent her PhD years, and since, doing research into the neurological impact of learning to play a musical instrument. Her analysis of the work of almost 100 research projects across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia lends strength to the arguments for IMT to be an important element in education which increases cognitive development.  She explains that from before birth, music has a profound effect on how the brain learns and grows.  Studies carried out on children found that there was a significant increase in academic attainment for children who played musical instruments.  She found that playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at the same time. Playing a musical instrument strengthens whole brain activity, activates the left and right side of the brain and enhances memory functions.


The Socialist Educational Association Scotland welcomes this Committee inquiry and hopes that urgent action is recommended to the Scottish Government to recognise the contribution which Instrumental Music Tuition makes towards Raising Attainment and Achievement.  In addition it asks that the committee recognises that insisting on access to Instrument Music Tuition for all interested learners meets the principles of Equity of Access, Quality and Inclusion. In particular, the Socialist Educational Association (Scotland) believes that Instrumental Music Tuition should be free and available as an integral part of Scotland’s curriculum and state