TORY criticism of the Scottish Government over a drop in the number of pupils taking music tuition has hit a sour note with educators.

John Wallace, former ­principal of the Royal Conservatoire of ­Scotland, said critics were grasping the “wrong end of the stick” by ­using data ­collected when schools were ­recovering from the Covid pandemic.

“While I understand the political imperative that MSPs such as ­Donald Cameron are hard-wired to give the SNP a kicking at every opportunity, the reasons for the slow recovery from the pernicious effects of the Covid pandemic on the numbers taking instrumental lessons cannot be laid at the Scottish Government’s door,” he said.

“They have kept their end of the ­bargain, providing an extra £12 ­million to local instrumental music services in the coming academic year. The music teachers on the ground are responding with passion, music education is flourishing and this time next year will be the time to appraise the success of this initiative.”

Wallace said that rather than ­“doing the usual Scottish thing of ­giving ­ourselves a good kicking”, Scots should be celebrating the fact that the Scottish Government had abolished fees for music tuition in schools.

“Scotland is really unusual in the world to still have a running system of instrumental lessons taught during the school day,” he said. “It is much more part of the curriculum in Scotland than anywhere else and looking around the world I would say Scotland is the musical country par excellence.

“People read all this negative stuff about music education in England and think that if it is happening in England then how much worse it will be in Scotland – without ­realising that in Scotland every secondary school has a music department and it is a popular subject – the fifth most popular Advanced Higher before the pandemic.

“It is so important in school ­because it is something that Scotland is very good at. We have our own traditional music and it is something kids want to do.”

Last week, opposition MSPs seized on data showing a drop in the ­uptake of music tuition, even though fees were abolished in 2021 by the ­Scottish Government who provided local authorities with £7m to for ­lessons in secondary schools for those who want them.

Before the change, which was an SNP manifesto pledge, many ­councils had started charging pupils, with some parents having to fork out up to £300 a year for their children to learn an instrument.

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Last year’s figures showed 8% of pupils were taking advantage of the free lessons, a drop of 5000 from 61,500 in the years 2015-17 before the pandemic hit and the lowest level in the last decade excluding 2020/2021.

Cameron told the Scottish Parliament that the figure was “sadly symptomatic of the SNP’s mismanagement of Scotland’s education system”.

The Instrumental Musical ­Services (IMS) survey showed wide ­variations in uptake, from 3.8% in North ­Lanarkshire to more than 25% in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

The councils surveyed said there was an ongoing impact from the ­pandemic in the early part of 2021/22, with brass and wind lessons not permitted in many schools until a later date.

The IMS report said: ­“Nationwide, due to the ongoing impact of ­Covid-19 on numbers in 2021/22, pupil ­numbers have not yet seen any impact of the removal of fees. Future surveys will be a more useful indicator of the impact of this policy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said of the Tory accusation it had broken its promise to school pupils: “This claim is factually wrong. The pledge was to remove fees, making it free to all pupils.

“Instrumental music tuition is ­offered in all local authority areas as an optional extra, in addition to class music lessons, which form part of the expressive arts curriculum for all children.”

Wallace said there was “a lot of ­positivity on the ground”.

“Education is a very slow turn – it is coming back but there are a ­couple of years of kids who have missed out on it and they take more time to reach which is why this raw data does not looks so good at the moment,” he said.

He added that the data did not take the Scottish index of multiple ­deprivation into account.

“The feeling on the ground is that there are many more kids that would not have done it before that are ­doing it now – it is not just the middle ­classes who can afford to have it and who realise its benefits,” he said.

“The local authorities are getting the money and it is really a matter of them being able to make the best use of it. Some are historically more ­positive than others so we are now trying to move towards a more level playing field where charging is not an issue and there is no ­disadvantage because of where you stay. Not ­everybody will want to do it but if they do they should have the ­opportunity.”

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Ian Mills, chair of the Music Education Partnership Group (MPEG) Board of Trustees, said evidence of Scotland’s “rich group of young musicians” was clear at the final last week of the Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year, won by 16-year-old clarinettist Emily Barron.

“Almost every part of country had their own local competitions so there was a lot of interest and committed teachers and parents,” he said. “We have to build on the fact that charging for tuition is no longer the issue and use the money that has become available.

“We are only two years into new arrangement – this is the start but we must look further down and see how can we support provision of music to young folk in primaries and nurseries.”

He added: “Music is central to our lives. That does not mean to say you have to be a professional musician but you need to have the opportunity at an early age to experience music and, if you are so inclined, to progress.”

Brass teacher Alastair Orr agreed that instrumental music services were continuing to recover from the ­impact of the pandemic, as well as cuts in ­music teachers following the ­financial crash in 2007. Then there were 1264 instrumental and ­vocal teachers working in ­Scotland’s schools but only 620 teachers ­employed by local authorities today.

“This has meant that many instrumental music services have long waiting lists of children unable to be accommodated, due to a lack of staff and resources,” he said. “This situation can only be resolved by, over time, allowing music services to grow. In that way, many more children will be able to enjoy the benefits of music education.”