Cross-party consensus for free instrumental tuition in Scotland

After three years of campaigning from the music community, including Making Music, the future is looking bright for children learning instruments in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament election is over, new MSPs are inducted and ministers are taking up their portfolios. ‘To do’ lists, dominated by pandemic and planning for recovery, will be longer than ever this year. And how many of those confident manifesto promises will become policy in the next five years?

Making Music and our colleagues in leisure time-music and the music education sector are determined that one of those promises quickly becomes reality. The SNP manifesto promised a great deal for music education: 

“(We will) abolish fees for music and arts education, including instrumental music tuition in schools. To support this we will accept all recommendations of the Music Education Partnership Group, mainstreaming music as a core subject in Scotland’s education system and ensuring Scotland’s school-based instrumental music teachers receive GTCS registration and accreditation creating a professionally-recognised national music teaching force.” (Scottish National Party 2021 Manifesto)

All of the parties who now have MSPs in the parliament made similar promises in their manifestos, providing a consensus that free instrumental music tuition in schools must now happen within the next five years.  

It’s unprecedented that an issue is uniformly adopted by all parties, the promise of ‘free instrumental music tuition’ repeated almost word for word across all papers. The reason for this must be the powerful arguments made by those from our music community who have campaigned for this loudly over the past three years. 

Making Music supported the Change the Tune campaign to clarify the lawfulness of fees for musical instrument tuition in Scottish state schools, established by lawyer and community musician Ralph Riddiough. Our Manager in Scotland spoke at the Scottish Parliament petitions committee in support of the 2018 petition to make it illegal to charge fees for tuition. And we supported the crowdfunder which raised £15,000, enabling the campaign to take its first step in challenging the legality of this increasingly common local authority practice.

Meanwhile, where local authorities announced new or increased fees, local campaigners took up the cause. In Midlothian, teachers, students and their families petitioned and campaigned loudly on the streets around the council budget meeting and the council u-turned on their proposed cuts.

The Music Education Partnership Group, of which Making Music is a member, made working with Scottish Government on the removal of tuition fees one of the key objectives of its 2020-25 strategy. They had great success in accessing those in government who could make that happen and in creating a pilot project (funded by Creative Scotland) to illustrate how to place music education at the heart of the school curriculum – We Make Music.

The MEPG have now been asked to join a steering group with the Scottish Government, Local Authorities and other major stakeholders to develop a Covid-recovery plan 2021-26 for music education, to which We Make Music programmes will provide an important catalyst. 

Convenor of the MEPG, Professor John Wallace summed up how campaigning has changed the tune on music making in schools in a letter to the MEPG:

“Thanks to your tireless round-the-clock advocacy it now seems to be universally recognised and accepted that music education is a major driver towards improving the mental and physical health and well-being of our nation, as well as our capacity for creativity. And above all, music education in future will include all children in the joy of the universe of music irrespective of the fact of whether they can pay for it or not.”

We know that keeping politicians to their word can take as much effort as securing their initial promise. But we’re sure that Making Music members, as well as our passionate and dedicated colleagues in our sector, will support us to pick up this issue if it loses its current momentum. 

Find out more about our music education campaign in Scotland.