MUSIC tuition is in danger of becoming the preserve of the wealthy as soaring fees put it out of reach of thousands of pupils.

Campaigners are now demanding it is classed as a core education subject as new figures show numbers have plummeted where councils have introduced fees, with some areas down by 45%.

Under current rules, the Scottish Government classes instrumental music tuition as a non-core part of the education curriculum, meaning local authorities must find the money to pay for it themselves.

Six councils currently provide lessons free of charge, but the remaining 26 pass this cost on to parents with prices varying from a £120 a year in Inverclyde to £524 in Clackmannanshire.

In its most recent report the government-funded Improvement Service revealed the devastating impact that introducing or increasing fees is having on the number of children learning an instrument.

In West Lothian, which scrapped free provision last year in favour of a £354 annual fee, pupil numbers plummeted by 45% year-on-year while in Clackmannanshire, where fees doubled to their current level from £258.50 in 2017/18, they dropped by 28%.

Now councils and campaigners are demanding that ministers start funding it by reclassifying it as a core subject, alongside maths and English, meaning it is ring-fenced for funding.

The row over music tuition comes after a devastating report into the state of Scotland's education system found that exam results are declining while the number of specialist teachers also falls.

Council umbrella group Cosla has indicated that as the overall government settlement for local authorities is being reduced by £95m for the coming year individual councils are being forced to make tough decisions about their discretionary spending.

As music lessons are not classed as statutory education, that means that instrumental music services will remain at risk unless the Government agrees to provide funding for them.

A Cosla spokesman said: “There is increasing demand for a wide range of services councils provide. We have made the point repeatedly to Scottish Government that investment in our core budget is crucial if we are to meet all of this demand.”

The degree to which councils are willing to consider slashing their music budgets was underscored this week when Edinburgh City Council voted through a budget that will see £500,000 cut from its music service between 2021 and 2023.

A consultation will now follow, but the decision means that charges are likely to be introduced in the city.

In North Lanarkshire, meanwhile, where the area’s Schools Pipe Band is the current holder of Scottish, British, European and world championship titles, councillors will tomorrow consider whether the authority’s instrumental music service should be drastically scaled back or even scrapped altogether.

It comes after the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Education and Skills Committee last year made it clear that music lessons should be provided free at the point of delivery in all Scottish schools. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the expectation is that local authorities will heed that recommendation.

“Decisions about the provision of instrumental music tuition are for local authorities to make, taking into account local circumstances, as well as the positive impact that learning a musical instrument can have on wellbeing and attainment,” she said.

“All local authorities should consider the Education and Skills Committee’s recommendation that music tuition should be provided free of charge. We would be concerned by moves by any local authority to limit access to instrumental music tuition.”

Campaigner Alistair Orr, who teaches brass instruments in Stirling, said the current situation amounts to a “Mexican stand-off between parliamentarians at Holyrood and the local authorities”, stressing that unless one side concedes the whole country will ultimately suffer.

“We hear claims all the time about Scotland being a world leader and in music we really are; this is something Scotland does really well,” he said. “If we lose this or have it choked off in the manner in which it seems to be moving then Scotland will be a loser educationally, culturally, socially. What goes in here contributes well beyond the classroom.”