Music Teachers (Primary School)

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative 2:00, 16 May 2024

To ask the Scottish Government what it anticipates the impact of the reported reduction in primary school music teacher numbers will be on children and young people. (S6O-03439)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Primary school teachers are generalists who are trained to teach the whole curriculum. Although it is for local authorities to ensure adequate provision of education staff, this Government remains committed to protecting teacher numbers and we are offering local authorities an additional £145.5 million in this year’s budget for that purpose.

The Government has supported a transformation in access to music tuition across Scotland by supporting councils to eradicate unfair charges for instrumental music tuition in schools. The most recent instrumental music survey, which was published in December last year, showed that the number of pupils participating in instrumental music tuition is at a record high.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

The cabinet secretary mentioned protecting teacher numbers, but there are now only 37 specialist music teachers in primary schools across Scotland. That number is down from 98 in 2008, the first year of the Scottish National Party being in power, and down from 108 in 2011.

Does the cabinet secretary share my concern that, in a country with such rich musical traditions as Scotland, young people are not getting the access to specialist music tuition that we had when we were at primary school? What is she doing about that?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

As I said in my original response, primary school teachers are generalists. When Mr Briggs and I were at primary school, we had a system whereby peripatetic teachers might come in to deliver music education or drama, for example. That system is not necessarily replicated across the country now. However, the Government is investing in employing record numbers of teachers in our schools and, since the pandemic, we have made significant additional investment to support a policy of maintaining teacher numbers, which I, as a former teacher, think is hugely important.

Yesterday, I was at the conference for religious education teachers at Queen Margaret University, and they asked me exactly the same question in relation to religious education. I think that there is an opportunity through education reform for us to better support specialisms in schools, particularly primary schools. I see Liz Smith nodding—we discussed this topic when we served on the Education and Skills Committee in the previous parliamentary session.

I am more than happy to have that conversation with Miles Briggs, but the question for the Opposition is how we fund that, given the additionality that Government is already putting in to fund the protection of teacher numbers, which is a policy that I support.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

A 2022 national partnership for culture report found that 73 per cent of primary school teachers feel unprepared by their initial teacher education to teach music. The same percentage of primary teachers also reported feeling underresourced to deliver culture as part of the curriculum. In the light of the reduction in the number of music specialists, as highlighted by Miles Briggs, what action is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that primary school teachers have the skills and resources to support culture?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Back in, I think, 2012, Education Scotland published a report in relation to social studies, which specifically looked at primary school teachers’ confidence in delivering modern studies and at issues about political literacy. Similar challenges were expressed in regard to that specialism, so this is not only about music education, although I accept that that is the premise of the original question. It is about how we can better support specialisms in our primary sector, recognising that those teachers are generalists and they are expected to deliver the totality of Scotland’s curriculum.

The major way in which we will improve support of primary teachers is through improving Scotland’s curriculum. We have already started some of that work in relation to maths education through the curriculum improvement cycle. Culture, and the role that it represents in the current curricular areas, will be part of that curriculum update, and ensuring that we can better equip Scotland’s teachers will be part of the process.