5. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that the number of pupils learning a musical instrument fell by over 1,000 between 2016-17 and 2017-18. (S5O-02594)
The Scottish Government recognises the value of instrumental music tuition to the wellbeing and attainment of young people and that, therefore, any reduction in take-up is a cause for concern. We are working with key partners to find ways to ensure that instrumental music tuition remains accessible to all.
Local authorities in Scotland are responsible for ensuring that all children and young people have access to the full curriculum, including the expressive arts. We are supporting local authorities by delivering a real-terms increase in revenue and capital funding in 2018-19.
The cabinet secretary might be aware that the two local authorities in my constituency—Midlothian Council and East Lothian Council—are named in the report as areas where hundreds of pupils are no longer registering for music lessons, following the introduction of charges. Can the cabinet secretary outline what support the Scottish Government can give both local authorities and pupils to ensure that that drop in uptake is arrested?
By coincidence, I was in Musselburgh grammar school yesterday when there was a fantastic orchestral performance by the school in advance of a meeting of the Scottish Education Council. However, one of the senior pupils made the point to me that the changes made by East Lothian Council were deterring individuals from taking up instrumental music tuition, and she was concerned about that. Mr Beattie therefore makes a fair point. There is a varied position on music tuition charging around the country, as a number of local authorities—those in Dundee, Edinburgh, the Western Isles, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire—apply no charge whatsoever for instrumental music tuition, while others do apply charges.
Individual local authorities need to take due account of the impact of those charges on the participation and involvement of young people, because all of us want to see young people able to take part in the expressive arts. A working group, led by the chair of the music education partnership group and bringing together representation from the Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is actively considering ways to ensure that instrumental music tuition remains accessible.
Clearly, music tuition is very important and it is important that everybody, regardless of their background, is able to access it. Does the cabinet secretary accept that local authorities have had to cut their budgets by £1.5 billion since 2010 and that as a result of that we are seeing cuts hit music tuition and education, with teachers being under more and more pressure as a result of those cuts?
I do not think that it is nearly as straightforward as that, because the local authorities of Dundee, Edinburgh, the Western Isles, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire have decided that, within the current financial settlement, they can afford to pay for instrumental music tuition. They have made the choice to prioritise that, but other local authorities have not made that decision. Local authorities have to make those choices. The answer to it all does not rest with the Scottish Government: it rests with local authorities to take the right decision to support instrumental music tuition.