Music Education in Scotland: Our Response

Head of Scotland Angus Nelson writes on the current state of music education in Scotland, highlighted in the newly published What’s Going on Now? research report:

What’s Going on Now? is a major examination of music education in Scotland, commissioned by Creative Scotland and conducted by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), reporting to the Music Education Partnership Group. The RCS report has found stark inequalities in young people’s ability to access music, with a widening equity gap between the more affluent and those living in poverty – and with 70% of students needing to contribute to the cost of learning an instrument at school.

Given recent events, the report launch at Thorntree Primary School in Glasgow’s East End was particularly poignant. Earlier this year we saw Moray Council try to impose an 85% increase on musical instrument tuition fees in schools – and in Midlothian, the council tried to end tuition altogether. The latter saw a mass demonstration outside council chambers in Dalkeith by concerned parents, students and music teachers. The decision in Midlothian was averted but this won’t be the last we hear of this.

As a result of significantly reduced funding, local authorities and schools are struggling to make ends meet and having to make extremely tough choices. The report found significant variation in music instrument tuition across local authorities, suggesting that there is unmet demand for over 100,000 pupils. It also stated that while parents and carers know the value of music, it is often devalued as an integral part of a rounded learning experience, and treated as a secondary subject.

The report goes on to explicitly emphasise that the value children get from music far exceeds simply learning about music. The social power of music is something we can all attest to and it can also be an important means of combatting social exclusion.

At Nordoff Robbins we train skilled musicians as therapists via our two-year Master of Music Therapy programme. Through music therapy we can have a life-changing effect for our beneficiaries – combatting isolation or overcoming limitations associated with illness, disability or trauma. Without access to a skilled and diverse workforce, the services we provide to pupils with special educational needs in mainstream and specialist schools would not be possible.

We at Nordoff Robbins welcome the report’s key recommendations. It is vitally important that we increase the profile of music, highlight the opportunities available as a result of studying music, and significantly reduce the inequality gap in children accessing music provision. Music making is part and parcel of the way all children learn about the world around them and develop new skills. By doing so we enrich the lives of children, families and broader communities.

Nordoff Robbins in Scotland would be more than happy to work with the Music Education Partnership Group at a local, regional, or national level to help implement all the recommendations proposed in the report – especially in engaging with the full range of young people. Our work brings us into contact with a broad range of organisations, people and institutions who will all advocate the importance of music in education.

Scottish musicians have a strong tradition of performing, writing and producing a diverse range of music and Scotland punches above it weight in terms of contribution to the UK music industry. As a country it is widely accepted that we have the potential to be a world leader in music education. It would be terrible to see this dissipate as a consequence of short-term planning and a lack of forward thinking.