Scotland politics

Music fees 'difficult to avoid' says Mike Russell

Scotland's education secretary has said that charging for musical instrument lessons in schools was "undesirable" but difficult to avoid.

Mike Russell believed that the current economic climate made a totally free system difficult.

He added that where fees are charged they should be proportionate.

The politician was speaking out after concerns Scots councils were making almost £3m a year from providing the service.

Teachers' union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said it had obtained figures which showed Aberdeen City Council charged as much as £340 a year while others, including Glasgow and Edinburgh councils, charged nothing.

Mr Russell said there was no scope for charging fees for "normal tuition" in Scotland.

But he added: "There have been charges for instrumental tuition and there are circumstances in which that is allowed to happen.

"But I think we would all expect those fees to be proportionate, we'd all expect those fees to take account of those who couldn't afford to pay them.

"They are undesirable in the sense that I would like to see a system free of them entirely, but that's very difficult to do in the current straightened financial circumstances."

Musical instrument tuition was discussed by members of Holyrood's education and culture committee and raised in a question with a minister in the debating chamber earlier.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan responded to Green MSP Alison Johnstone in parliament by saying he wanted a "more level playing field" for charges.

Claim dismissed

He said: "We are aware there should be more of a level playing field than there is and we are aware of a variety that exists in terms of fees provided for tuition over and above the lessons provided within school."

Mr Allan added that the Scottish government had written to councils asking for information about the way they charge for tuition.

The charges were discussed by MSPs on Holyrood's Education and Culture Committee in the morning.

Mark Traynor, of the EIS, who appeared before the committee in the morning, argued that some councils could "profit" from pupils by charging for tuition and using the revenue to fund other areas.

He said: "Of the income that's being generated through charges being extended, we see that as a possible profit revenue."

Aberdeen City Council dismissed the EIS's charging claim.

A spokeswoman for the local authority said: "Aberdeen City Council has not and does not make a profit from providing music tuition to pupils."

Expenditure at the city council on lessons in 2012-13 is £1,317,000 while an income of £534,000 from fees and other support leaves a net cost of £783,000, the spokeswoman said.

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