Parents and pupils have been left disappointed by the council’s decision not to replace a violin tutor who retired from the schools service at Christmas, with one “desperate” 10-year-old trying to learn from a classmate.
A letter has gone to parents of children receiving violin tuition through the school, expressing “regret” that this will not continue.
When the tutor, Alan Gifford, retired the question of whether or not to replace him went before the council’s vacancy management panel – every vacant post is now scrutinised in this way. The decision was made at that time to replace him and the post was advertised in January. One person applied but was not appointed, apparently because of lack of qualifications and experience.
Schools service quality improvement officer Jerry Edwards said: “The post was approved and advertised but there were no suitable applicants.”
Although Mr Edwards had heard of several people who might have been able to do the job, he said: “If they apply they apply. We don’t headhunt.”
In any case, he explained, no appointment would now be made so close to the election of a new council, which will decide on budget savings. An instrumental review was currently under way and no permanent changes were being made meantime.
Mr Edwards said: “It wouldn’t be right to start children now with a new tutor who might [shortly] be made redundant.”
Other instrument tuition was on-going, he said. “They are all on established contracts until the council decides what it wants to do.”
Some pupils have been fortunate enough to continue lessons in a private capacity but Mr Gifford, and others, have no more vacancies.
Parent Gideon Johnston, whose 11-year-old daughter, a Bell’s Brae pupil who lost her tuition, said: “It’s getting nae better, if Orkney can do it [provide free music tuition] why can’t we. My lassie has had no lessons since before Christmas.
“It’s something that’s always been, always should be. We’re not really short of money, that’s absolute codswallop. They [the council] should be advertising in The Scotsman. They’re no trying hard enough. If it goes on any longer she’ll lose interest. It will be a year [of no tuition] by the time they decide anything.”
Parent Theresa Wyeth said her 10-year-old daughter had also had no official tuition since Christmas. But one of her daughter’s friends was having private tuition with the retired violin tutor – and after her class she came to teach Ms Wyeth’s daughter what she has learned.
Ms Wyeth said: “It [the situation] is completely desperate, but otherwise the fiddle won’t see the light of day again.”
She also feels more could be done to recruit tutors who are not necessarily highly qualified, when many pupils play mainly for enjoyment.
“What baffles me is that the island is full of competent and able players. Surely some tuition is better than no tuition. Possibly they need to lower the bar.”
Both these parents willingly paid for individual violin tuition. Although introducing charges for music tuition was, and remains, highly controversial – councillor Rick Nickerson resigned as culture and recreation spokesman in protest about the “tax on talent” – there is still a large waiting list.
Current council figures show 688 pupils throughout Shetland are receiving tuition in a wide range of instruments, with 121 on the waiting list. Pupils entitled to free school meals, clothing grants, or who are taking Standard Grade or Highers in their instrument, get tuition free of charge.
Piano and fiddle are the most popular choices, with 219 and 204 pupils respectively, with drums (49) and accordion (43) next. Other instruments on offer include cello (18), trumpet (17) cornet (11) alto sax (two) and mandolin, oboe and viola with one pupil each. However, not all schools offer the same instruments and there is only one tutor each for drums, brass and accordion.