SCHOOLS are being hit with new charges of up to £38,000 a year to pay for the cost of preparing senior pupils for music exams.

Midlothian Council is the first local authority in Scotland to pass on the cost of tuition for music qualifications such as Higher and Advanced Higher, rather than funding it from central budgets.

Campaigners, who fear other councils will adopt the tactic, said the move could see a decline in the number of pupils sitting music exams.

And they warned it would also restrict choice - with pupils having to select instruments commonly taught in school, such as percussion or guitar, rather than those requiring expert outside input such as strings, woodwind or brass.

The row comes as the Scottish Parliament’s education committee investigates the impact of rising fees for music tuition in primary and secondary schools across Scotland.

Some councils facing budget cuts have increased fees to more than £500 a year while others have cut the number of music instructors.

However, until now councils have not charged pupils or schools for tuition related to formal exams run by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Kirk Richardson, convener of the instrumental music teachers’ network, which is run by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union, called for the practice to be stopped before it spread to other authorities.

He said: “The SNP wants headteachers to have greater autonomy over how they spend their money, but if a department is costing a headteacher thousands and thousands of pounds every year then that will set alarm bells ringing.

“I have been told by headteachers that they simply could not have a subject that is costing them that amount of money because it would make the school budget unsustainable.

“Councils tried to introduce pupils charges for exams before and were warned off, but Midlothian seems to have found a loophole whereby they are passing these charges on to schools.”

MSP Clare Adamson, convener of the education committee, has now written to

Derek Milligan, the leader of Midlothian Council, to raise the issue.

However, in his response Mr Milligan said officials believed the charges were affordable.

He said: “Midlothian ... decided last year to introduce an internal recharge to schools for SQA presentations for music exams, which would charge secondary schools the annual cost of providing music tuition for this purpose.

“This is estimated to amount to £700 per pupil in 2018/19 and will result in sums between £7,000 and £38,000 being recovered from individual secondary school budgets this year.

“Midlothian Council considers that charging schools for the cost of providing music tuition for SQA presentations provides greater transparency of the total costs being incurred by each of our secondary schools.”

In 2013 Dumfries and Galloway, Midlothian, Highland, Aberdeen City and Renfrewshire councils all ditched the controversial fees for SQA exams following pressure from the Scottish Government’s instrumental music group.

When taking an SQA music qualification students need to present evidence that they can play two musical instruments.

Some choose instruments learned in school music lessons such as keyboards, guitar or percussion, but others choose strings, brass or woodwind with tuition from an instructor.