Free music lessons in Scotland to get funding boost

Susan Nickalls
Friday, July 16, 2021

Local councils in Scotland will receive extra funds to encourage more pupils to learn a musical instrument.


By Susan Nickalls


The Scottish Government has announced that local councils are to get an extra £7m to fund free music tuition for the 2021-22 school year.

Over the last decade, many cash-strapped councils have scrapped free music tuition. In 2018, only 10 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities provided free music tuition with some of them doubling the cost of lessons to over £500 a year. This led to a drop in the number of pupils taking lessons around the country. 

At the time, Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti called the cuts ‘catastrophic to our future as a nation. ’ She has welcomed the latest news: ‘This is the result of nearly 10 years of committed, dedicated, tireless advocacy work by a phenomenal group of people. This investment will be life changing for many young people, instrumental teachers and music services across Scotland.’

The decision by Scotland’s education secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, to provide extra funding to councils follows an inquiry held by Holyrood’s education and skills committee in November 2018. One of the pupils who gave evidence to the politicians was Catherine Mackie, also a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Glasgow Southside. Speaking personally, and on behalf of her constituents, she told the committee that costs should not be a barrier to pupils learning a musical instrument: ‘Who knows what potential talent we might be missing out on? We could have the next Bach, the next Nicola Benedetti, the next anyone in our schools. The benefits are there - mental health improves, you end up with more friends if you join a band or an orchestra, even grades can improve. You can't put a price on music.’ 

Mackie, a violinist and saxophonist believes that without having had the opportunity to learn violin in primary school she wouldn’t have been able to sit senior secondary school exams in music. So she is delighted with the Scottish Government’s change of heart.

‘We have been campaigning for the Scottish Government to remove music tuition fees for a long time, and I am delighted to see it's happened. No young person should ever be deterred from the benefits of learning how to play a musical instrument due to worries about cost. The Scottish Youth Parliament has campaigned hard for this and I’m so glad that the Scottish Government have listened. This will now give all children the invaluable chance to learn how to play an instrument without worrying about how they’ll afford it.’

Although councilors told MSPs during the inquiry that they were not in favour of ring-fencing funds, ministers have agreed a deal with Cosla, the national association of Scottish Councils, for specific funding for the coming school year. The Education Secretary has agreed to work with local authorities to develop a long-term solution that includes sustainable funding arrangements for all councils.