Making Music supports campaign challenging legality of musical instrument tuition fees in Scotland

As the largest membership organisation in the UK representing the everyday music maker, we have been supporting lawyer and community musician Ralph Riddough’s Change the Tune campaign to clarify the lawfulness of fees for musical instrument tuition in Scottish state schools.

Making Music members repeatedly tell us of their concern that opportunities to experience music and be taught instruments are being eroded in schools, and that as such community music making of the future is under threat. 

Ralph believes that, by charging for music tuition in schools, not only are children being priced out of an aspect of their education, but that councils are inadvertently breaking Scottish law which states that no fees should be charged for education.

As Ralph explains:

“Section 3 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states that local authorities shall not charge fees for the provision of education. It is my belief that Instrumental Music Services (IMSs) which teach children to play musical instruments within a school setting, are indeed education, a view which was confirmed by the report of the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee issued in January 2019. As such, I am seeking to clarify, through the courts, that it is unlawful for local authorities to charge fees for the provision of this music education.” 

Making Music believe that music is of as equal value as sport or science in a rounded education, and provides important long-term personal and societal benefits. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and that the only way for that opportunity to be truly equitable is if it is free to all and provided within regular school hours where there are fewest barriers to access, and as such put our name to the campaign. 

While there had been excellent work done to address these issues in the political arena (and we welcomed the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee’s position that instrumental music tuition should not be charged for in any local authority a position shared by MSPs who spoke in the parliamentary debate on this issue), we agreed that there was a legal principle at stake, namely that in Scottish law the provision of education must be free of charge. 

Alison Reeves, Making Music Manager for Scotland:

“Making Music members all understand the high value of music in their lives and communities and that the journey to lifelong participation in music begins in school. Charging fees only for learning a musical instrument and no other part of a child’s education creates a barrier to learning and is fundamentally unfair. Ralph’s work to challenge the legality of fees gives us in Scotland an opportunity to consider what constitutes education and to assert our accepted belief that education should always be free. If children are to be assessed on their ability to play a musical instrument for SQA qualifications, then we believe fees for learning should never be applied, even at the beginning of this journey in primary school.”

After a successful crowdfunder raised over £15,000, the campaign instructed solicitors to begin the legal work of exploring a judicial review. 

In November 2019 the campaign took its first step in challenging the legality of charging fees for instrumental tuition in schools. As a person with interest, Ralph Riddiough lodged a formal section 70 complaint with the Scottish Government under the 1980 Education Scotland Act.

... I’ve got kids at school and I’m paying fees for their musical instrument tuition to South Ayrshire Council. That’s against the law, is my assertion. I can only complain about my local authority but I’ve tried to frame the complaint in a way that says what I want is for funding across Scotland to be adequate to protect this educational service. That’s what this is about and that’s what people have funded.

On 16 March, Ralph received the formal response from the Scottish Government which stated that the complaint had not been upheld, with no detailed reasons given.

The legal team advised that he could now proceed to raise judicial review court proceedings on the basis that the Scottish Ministers have misdirected themselves on the relevant points of law, however that would require considerable additional funds to be raised within three months and at the time of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic Ralph decided to put the campaign on pause. 

As Ralph states, ‘Education will always be of fundamental importance in itself, and for its functions in supporting the health, prosperity and liberty of individuals, communities and nations’. Making Music will continue to support the ideal that musical instrument tuition should not be charged for in schools and to work with the Music Education Partnership Group (Scotland) and others as we seek to #ChangeTheTune on music education and safeguard the next generation of music makers.  

To take part in the discussion, join the #changethetune facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/184927842133596 

If you would like to find out more or are interested in picking up the campaign, visit the campaign website