The proposals would have a significant impact on MU members’ jobs, take instrumental music lessons away from low-income families until fourth year, and fly in the face of the Scottish Government’s manifesto pledge. The proposals could also set a dangerous precedent; the MU has received reports that other councils are considering similar cuts.
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Many members rely on instrumental music teaching
MU Regional Organiser Caroline Sewell has written to Midlothian Council on behalf of union members. Her letter outlines members’ objections to the proposed cuts:
I am the Regional Organiser for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Musicians’ Union. We are the trade union for professional musicians and represent over 32,000 working musicians in the UK who work across all areas of the music industry. Our members are instrumental music teachers, orchestral players, composers, session musicians and everything in between. Many of our members rely on instrumental teaching to form some of part of their income.
I write to you in response to proposals put forward by Midlothian Council in relation to cuts to music education services. We find these gravely concerning, not only for our teaching members, who will be affected by the inevitable raft of redundancies that will come about as a direct result of these proposals, but also for the many hundreds of young people in Midlothian who will no longer have access to learning a musical instrument if the cuts go ahead.
As you are aware, one of the flagship policies of the current Scottish Government was to abolish fees for music and arts education, including instrumental music tuition in schools. In our view, these proposals completely undermine this policy.
One of our main concerns is that in order to achieve the reductions that have been set out, it would be impossible to sustain any kind of instrumental music service on 40% of what is currently spent. Having spoken at length with those involved in delivering the service currently, these proposals will inevitably mean the deterioration and ultimately the demise of the service completely. It is our understanding that cuts of this magnitude will have devastating consequences, including a removal of provision for primary schools as well as the service no longer being able to sustain bands and ensembles.
While the instrumental music provision that remains available will indeed remain free of charge, the proposals seek to restrict instrumental provision to SQA pupils. This will mean a return to a predominantly parent-funded service as private tuition will need to be sought to ensure pupils are of a standard whereby they can study the subject at SQA level. Of course, those who cannot afford this will simply not be able to engage in learning an instrument until much later in their academic career. These proposals will therefore have a disproportionate impact on pupils from the poorest socioeconomic backgrounds.
If students are unable to begin their instrumental music education until 4th year, there are significant concerns that by then their chances of success or being able to further study their instrument at higher or tertiary level will be significantly reduced. Further, the redundancies which will result from the proposed reduction of 8.8 FTE will also drastically reduce the choice of instruments available to learn in schools. This will further diminish participation and ultimately stifle opportunities for students in Midlothian to benefit from the wealth of learning benefits across all academic areas that are associated with learning a musical instrument. These include raised attainment in literacy and numeracy as well as positive impacts on other dimensions such as mental health, wellbeing and social development.
As one of the fastest growing local authorities, the funding gap of £9.727 million faced by Midlothian is significant. However, the £440,000 that this proposal looks to save constitutes a fraction of this and of the overall budget in terms of savings, and it will come at a grave cost to pupil attainment, instrumental teachers and their livelihoods, the wider community of Midlothian and educational opportunity for young people in Midlothian.
We are concerned at the decision to use only the funding which has been provided by the Scottish Government for music education. This funding is intended to ensure that instrumental music services remain charge free. It is not intended to run whole music services in their entirety. These proposals frankly take a blunt knife to this service at a time when instrumental music services have already suffered greatly from years of austerity-driven cuts and underinvestment, and they are severely lacking in any vision or a real and sustainable way forward for the music service.
We urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject these proposals and engage properly and meaningfully with those who manage this crucial service to establish means by which Midlothian can still deliver a fully functioning instrumental music service.
Find out more about Midlothian’s plans and how to have your say.