THE introduction of fees for music tuition in Scottish schools has led to more than 1,200 fewer pupils learning an instrument in just one year.

New figures show numbers accessing instrumental music tuition fell from 61,615 in 2016/17 to 60,326 in 2017/18 - the first recorded fall in pupil numbers.

The decline comes before the impact of more recent increases to charges with eleven councils hiking rates to as much as £524 a year.

The Improvement Service, the support organisation for Scottish local government, also found demand for instrumental music tuition is far greater than supply following drastic cuts to music tutors.

Only five out of 32 councils are able to offer it to all interested pupils and many councils are operating waiting lists, Some are even managing demand through "selection tests".

Parent body Connect said a survey on the issue highlighted the trend with one family responding: "The current system of testing for aptitude in P4 without warning favours young people whose parents have already invested in music lessons.

"Anecdotally, those in my son’s year who have passed the test are all already receiving private music tuition."

Last week, The Herald revealed the number of music instructors working in Scottish schools has plummeted to an all-time low with just 667 dedicated tutors serving primary and secondary schools compared to 1,043 in 2007.

The decline, combined with the move by some councils to increase charges, has sparked fears school music is facing “extinction”.

The latest decline was revealed as the Scottish Parliament’s education committee prepares to open an inquiry into the future of school music services.

The inquiry was launched after a petition calling for free musical instrument tuition to be made a statutory right was signed by nearly 10,000 people.

Campaigners estimate it would cost about £30 million per year to ensure all children have a right to instrumental lessons, but say the benefits make the investment worthwhile economically and educationally.

Papers for this week's meeting of the committee highlight concerns from the Instrumental Music Teachers’ Network on further cuts planned by councils.

The network said Edinburgh was anticipating a potential budget cut, which would mean a 50 per cent reduction in music staff and 2,500 fewer pupils able to access the service. West Lothian has already introduced charges of £354 per year and it was reported this led to a decline in take-up of 1,300 pupils.

Following the introduction in South Ayrshire of a £200 charge it was reported that up to one third of pupils had dropped out with no children in some primary schools learning a musical instrument.

It was further reported that hundreds of pupils in East Lothian, Midlothian and Clackmannanshire were now no longer registering for lessons after charges were introduced. Pupils who remain in the service are choosing disciplines that involve no instrument costs such as singing.

The submission form the network said: "We trust that the education committee will agree that it is alarming to hear of children dropping out of music lessons in such great numbers because they simply cannot afford to take part.

"This cohort of young people are missing out on the many benefits that are intrinsic to learning a musical instrument, and on the wider cognitive, social and emotional, including mental health, benefits which impact positively on achievement and attainment in school."

In a separate written submission Kenny Christie, chairman of the Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland, said the situation was the worst he had ever seen.

He said: "In my time as chair of this network as it comes into its 21st year it would be fair to say that never before has the concern and fear for the future of instrumental music education been so profound.

"With local authorities facing such challenging financial situations some have proposed or have now adopted policies which threaten the future of access to instrumental music education for children and young people in Scotland for a generation."