Technology could help protect music tuition in schools, suggests councillor

A councillor has suggested school pupils could be taught how to play musical instruments over the internet to save money, while reducing the need to raise fees and cut the availability of tuition.

A working group has been set up to examine other ways of funding or providing tuition to pupils as part of a review aimed at saving £350,000 from the SIC’s £611,000 budget.

Speaking during Friday’s educational and families committee meeting, councillor Michael Stout said a “huge part” of the problem was the cost of instructors travelling around Shetland.

That led him to look favourably upon the idea of keeping some instructors centrally to teach pupils in outlying areas using Skype or other online technology.

Hayfield official Shona Thompson said she understood where Mr Stout was coming from – her own son recently having taught himself how to play guitar over the internet.

She said tutors had been asked for their views on using technology but “only one of them was prepared to try it” – though further discussions could take place.

Mr Stout said he appreciated that a “culture shift” was required before the council could make the best of technological developments.

“I understand that this is not only possible but eminently practical,” he said, adding that it would make use of the council’s considerable investments in digital technology. “It’s something that really could answer a lot of the problems here.”

Representatives of Shetland College and Shetland Arts form part of the working group, along with local industry representatives and music instructors. It is hoped that outside funding or sponsorship might be found to help safeguard music tuition.

A year ago councillors sanctioned a review looking into increasing the annual fees charged from £140 to £210. There were huge protests in 2010 when the fees were first introduced.

Other measures on the table include reducing the number of instruments taught and cutting the percentage of pupils receiving specialist tuition from 40 per cent to 25 per cent.

The SIC’s review will also take account of the Scottish Government’s nationwide review of music tuition, due to report in June. It follows in the wake of the Scotland on Sunday’s “Let the Children Play” campaign.

Last year the government warned the SIC and other local authorities that they could be breaking the law by charging fees for music tuition.

There were further protests locally in 2012 after the council decided not to replace retiring violin teacher Alan Gifford. It also emerged that the future of brass instrumental tuition was up in the air following Roy Hughson’s retirement.

Committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said that there were no immediate plans to replace the tutors while music tuition remained “in a position of flux”.

“Until we get more clarification on the best way forward it would be difficult to start advertising for replacements,” she said.

In her report to councillors, Ms Thompson wrote: “Much has been said in the media, both locally and nationally, in respect of the future of instrumental instruction in Shetland – this is an emotive topic for many people.

“Shetland’s young people are internationally acclaimed in this regard and no one could dispute the part our instrumental instructors have played in their success.”

However, she said the service was “entirely discretionary in nature and is not to be confused with music teaching”.

Her report said the shape of music tuition may have to be reviewed again if school closures go ahead: “Were instructor travel times reduced, that would mean that more pupils could receive instrumental instruction.”


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