Means tested charges hit bum note with parents and union
Jim Halfpenny of the EIS and a young banjo player who enjoys his music.
Means tested charges for musical instruments for pupils doing music in West Dunbartonshire schools have been described as “unfair” by the teachers’ union. The charge of £85 is set to be introduced in August.
Parents too have lambasted the proposal on a trade union website on social media.
Jenny Penny said: “I feel very strongly about this. As a working lone parent of a child who played an instrument at school, I may not have been in a position to pay for this, meaning she would have had less opportunities than her peers.
“This is completely wrong and flies in the face of all children having an equal chance when it comes to education. In addition to this, when are people in power going to realise that free school meals are no longer necessarily the most appropriate way of measuring poverty within our community?”
Lynda McEwan said: “This is a class issue now. Only those who can afford to will be able to take up the arts. It is disgusting.”
One parent said it was “preposterous” that the SNP were saying that that the new charges would be levied only on pupils learning an instrument as a hobby.
“What else would they be learning it for,” she asked. “Do they think all these children want to play in the Dumbarton Philharmonic?”
The council’s corporate services committee voted some months ago to introduce the charge, but EIS union convenor Jim Halfpenny says the prospect of these charges has created “deep concern” among music teachers and parents.
And that some pupils will have to give up music because their parents or guardians do not have the money to meet the fees.
Mr Halfpenny said: “At a time when other local authorities, such as Renfrewshire, have decided to scrap all fees associated with music instruction in schools, we feel that a charge of £85 is unfair.”
A number of pupils have already told their teachers they are giving up music and the sole reason for doing so is the introduction of this fee, which their families simply cannot afford.
Mr Halfpenny added: “At a time when the Council claim that they are trying to reduce the attainment gap, they are humiliating low-income families, of which there are many in West Dunbartonshire, by forcing them through a means test.”
Pupils up to S3 will be charged the music fee unless they are eligible for free school meals.
Pupils studying at SQA level in S4 to S6 will not be charged, but the union fear the change will lead to “negligible numbers of pupils continuing with music”.
Mr Halfpenny said: “Music exam results historically have been an area of great strength in West Dunbartonshire.
“Pupils who study music do very well and great numbers go on to study music or work in music beyond school. There is a real fear that this rich history will die as a result of this levy being introduced.
“Where once we could be described as an authority which champions expressive arts, there is a belief that this policy seriously devalues their importance to our young people and also to our communities.”
He added: “This charge will be applied regardless of the age or condition of the instrument, so some young people will get brand new instruments while others will receive ones which are in need of significant or frequent repair.”
Just as is the case with the budget consultation, there is criticism of the way the consultation on this was carried out.
Jim said: “Letters were issued without the knowledge or involvement of school music staff and on a day which gave parents and carers only a day or two to respond. Some pupils even received the letter after the consultation period had closed.”
West Dunbartonshire’s Labour group voted against the introduction of the charges.
Labour’s shadow education convener, Cllr John Mooney (pictured left) said: “In the first place such charges should have gone out to full public consultation with other proposed budget cuts.
“On the second occasion that this proposal was presented, we were informed of a narrow consultation that only involved parents of children who were currently receiving music lessons. This is not public consultation.
“Labour opposed these charges on both educational and equality grounds. Children are entitled to receive a broad, general education, which includes musical instruction.
“Means-tested charges stigmatise children and restrict access to musical education, while imposing an unnecessary administrative burden on teaching staff.”
The SNP boycott The Democrat but it is believed their position is that the claims do not match the reality of the situation which is that until now the council has protected free music tuition for pupils of all ages.
And that pupils studying music at SQA level will continue to receive free hire and maintenance of instruments that are worth up to £900, according to the SNP finance convener Ian Dickson (pictured right). He is quoted elsewhere as saying: “The only charges that are being made are for pupils learning an instrument as a hobby.
“We will sensitively support families in financial hardship to claim access to a free service, as happens successfully at dozens of other Scottish councils. I support the EIS’s desire to protect access to music in schools, which is why we have minimised the impact on local parents.”
At £8.50 per month for ten months, the West Dunbartonshire charges are the second-lowest in Scotland and significantly below the average charge of £230, but then this area is one of the most deprived in the country.