The SNP Government in Scotland is being accused of breaking its promise to the nation's school pupils after it emerged that a new survey showed that only around 8% of pupils took instrumental music lessons last year.
The Scottish Government ended the unpopular charges for music tuition in 2021 by providing councils with £7 million to deliver an SNP manifesto pledge. Before the change, many local councils had introduced, or increased charges for group instrument lessons held in schools, with some billing parents up to £300 a year.
Those had significant damaging effects on music service provision, with Holyrood's Education & Skills Committee given the example in 2018 that the number of primary school pupils in West Lothian Council using the peripatetic music services had fallen from 1,128 to 234, and for secondary schools from 1,042 to 514 in the same period.
A successful campaign followed against the discretionary charges which resulted in the commitment. However, the long term success of the investment was undermined by Covid-19 with numbers going down from 56,198 in 2019/20 to 41,594 in 2020/21.
An although it was reported that the figures rebounded in 2021/22 to levels similar to those found immediately before the Covid-19 outbreak, a recent Instrumental Music Services (IMS) survey showed a drop of more than 5,000 youngsters receiving tuition, down from more than 61,500 in the pre-pandemic year 2016/17, to 56,138 last year — a lower rate than in any year but one in the past decade.
It has resulted in heated debate in Holyrood, with Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron saying that the figures were "sadly symptomatic of the SNP's mismanagement of Scotland's education system".
He added: "The fact that so many young Scots are missing out on music lessons is deeply disappointing.
Music tuition for school pupils is extremely important — it teaches children a valuable skill, enriches their education experience and has been shown to improve performance in other academic areas.
But under the SNP, 92 per cent of pupils have not taken up a musical instrument, despite the Scottish Government's promise of free music tuition for all school children
No reversal yet
Although the IMS report said there had not yet been any "reversal in those trends", supporters stated that the study suggested the statistics for last year were still being skewed by the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report also showed huge regional variations in uptake of music provision services from 3.8 per cent in North Lanarkshire to more than 25 per cent in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.
Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron saying that the figures were, "sadly symptomatic of the SNP's mismanagement of Scotland's education system"4BR
Supporters stated that before the SNP ended charging, participation had been increasing in a sustained way at councils which already did not charge and was decreasing in those which charged parents.
A Scottish Government spokesperson was reported in 'The Scotsman' newspaper in response to the accusation that it had broken its pledge to school pupils by saying: "This claim is factually wrong. The pledge was to remove fees, making it free to all pupils.
Instrumental music tuition is offered in all local authority areas as an optional extra, in addition to class music lessons, which form part of the expressive arts curriculum for all children."