For anyone involved with instrumental instruction in Fife schools, the grandstanding comments of Cllr David Alexander (Dunfermline Press, 14.2.19, p.21) will have struck a distinctly off-note.
Cllr Alexander says in Fife we have got “orchestras all over the place”. That is happily still true, but if there were no instrumental instruction in our schools, there would be no orchestras, because you usually need years of instrumental instruction to be good enough to be able to play in an orchestra.
He goes on to say that instrumental instruction is “free to those studying as part of the curriculum and those eligible for free school meals”. That is only partly true. Instrumental instruction is only free for pupils in S4 to S6 who are studying for a national qualification in academic music, and you do not get to be good enough on an instrument to be able to opt for such a course unless you have had years of instruction before S4.
Moreover, it is only free for those who actually take up free school meals – plenty of pupils who are entitled to free school meals do not take them up. Everyone else has to pay a fee of £220 per year – that is, if they are lucky enough to be selected for instruction in the first place. Demand for inschool instrumental teaching always outstrips supply.
Learning an instrument is very far from being freely available to all Fife pupils: it is rationed by cost and rationed by the number of instructors employed. Their numbers have been severely cut, and only a skeleton service survives.
Every year instrumental teachers, their students and their parents are subject to five months of anxiety and insecurity as the “savings” proposal to abolish the service is held over them like an axe – until the administration announces its budget in February and that it will not be taking the “saving” after all. This annual threat is cruel and unnecessary, and if Cllr Alexander really values music education, and those who teach and study an instrument, then he would take this off the table permanently.
Indeed if he believes his own words that “music is viewed as core to an awful lot of young people”, he should commit to extending the chance to learn an instrument at school beyond the lucky few. Other local authorities manage to do it – why not Fife?
Cllr Linda Holt
Deputy Leader, Fife Conservative Group