Covid Scotland: Recruiting new children to learn musical instruments ‘impossible’ during pandemic

The number of children taking an instrument course fell 14,604 – 26% – from the previous year to 41,594 in the 2020/2021 school year, a report from the Department of Education found. improvement of local government.

In the report, the councils said recruiting new students was “difficult or impossible”, with the entry of instructors into primary schools severely restricted and the opportunities for new students to try the instruments “severely limited”. In some local communities – such as East Lothian, which hired through the council’s YouTube channel – re-hiring was possible, but took place online.

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In addition to limited recruitment, local authorities have also reported higher rates of students dropping out of the service and lower levels of engagement in musical instrument lessons. In Inverclyde, nearly 400 learners withdrew from the service in 2020/21, or nearly a third of the workforce in this municipality.

Fewer children have had the opportunity to learn an instrument in Scottish schools due to Covid.

Some local authorities highlighted the limitations of recruiting in some aerosol-producing instruments such as brass, woodwinds and vocals, while other councils also said that the number of learners was limited by the lack of courses available in because of the difficulties in organizing larger group classes online rather than in person.

The report states: “A number of reasons appear to have contributed to students’ disengagement from services, including the shift to online learning, which some students seem to have struggled with; an absence of live play and group activities such as concerts, bands and orchestras; and more generally the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of young people, with increased levels of stress and anxiety reported. “

At the level of each local authority, the proportion of pupils participating in instrumental music lessons varied considerably, ranging from 2% to 24% of all primary education and

high school students. In just two local authorities, Dundee City and the Orkney Islands, the proportion of students attending instrumental music lessons increased between 2019/20 and 2020/21. On average, however, participation rates fell by two percentage points in all local communities.

Eilean Siar was hit the hardest with a 5.7 percentage point drop in turnout followed by a 4.7 percentage point drop for Argyll and Bute.

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In July, the Scottish government announced that fees for children learning a musical instrument at school would be waived thanks to a £ 7million fund. In recent years, more councils have started charging for children’s musical instrument lessons, with just six local authorities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Orkney, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire still keeping lessons free before the pandemic. Some other councils have temporarily waived fees during the pandemic.

The duration of instrumental music lessons also varies according to local authorities. On average, most students receive a minimum of 23 minutes of lesson per instrument per week, but lessons range from a minimum of 10 minutes to a maximum of 50 minutes.

The report warned the Scottish government should prepare for a rebound in recruitment of musicians due to the fee waiver.

He said: “As all tuition fees have now been removed, it remains to be seen what the impact will be on student numbers and demand for instrumental music services. Evidence from past years, and even this last year disrupted by Covid, suggests that the number of students is very likely to increase, and it does indeed seem likely that the number of students will rebound strongly to pre-Covid levels. in all cases. This means the Scottish Government will need to ensure that services receive an adequate level of funding to meet any additional demand. “

The report also found that there were fewer music teachers in Scottish schools. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) instrument teachers employed by local councils increased from 651.9 in 2013/14 to 617.5 in 2020/21.

He added: “What is also clear, however, is that local authorities are already unable to meet demand even when fees are in place. Accordingly, and assuming that one of the objectives of removing fees is to increase participation, consideration will have to be given to the level of funding required not only to meet existing capacity, but also to work to restore capacity. at historic levels.

Ralph Riddiough, who has successfully campaigned for free musical instrument lessons in schools, said: “It is inevitable that there have been no new starts in the last school year and at the other end, many children threw in the towel. Many of them didn’t like to learn online – they like to play in a band or in a group, but to continue online they should be very enthusiastic.

“However, there will probably be a big recruitment drive soon. The Scottish government has made a political commitment to fund free tuition, but if a certain local authority has a huge increase in demand, go to the government. and say it needs more funding, the answer is most likely no.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘Despite the pandemic posing acute challenges for instrumental music lessons, this survey shows that music services have been resilient and innovative to ensure that young people can continue to benefit from high quality experiences. As the restrictions were lifted, we would expect the number of learners to rebound.

‘Since the investigation was undertaken, the Scottish Government and COSLA have come to an agreement to remove the remaining fees for instrumental music tuition fees, thus removing the cost as a factor for young people considering taking music lessons at school. “

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