Responses from Readers to Our Report on Piping Tuition in Scotland’s State Schools

Thanks to all those who responded to my story about the teaching of piping in schools, writes the Editor. You may have missed the printed comments from Claire MacPherson and George Barlow, so here they are again.

Claire first: ‘I wholeheartedly agree. Music must be at the very core [of our education system] and every child deserves to have the opportunity to experience our amazing musical heritage and take it as far as they wish.

‘I went through the state system from 1979 (last to receive the free milk!) until early ’90s and in that time, in the heart of the Highlands, we were given recorders and taught ‘Portsmouth’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’.

‘Would chanters and the Haughs of Cromdale and Green Hills not have been more appropriate? It’s nothing short of a crime to grow up in such ignorance (to say nothing of what was done to our Gaelic language).

[wds id=”2″]

‘Would this money be better spent in a more direct and proactive approach, perhaps subsidising chanters for families who need a little extra help, and towards the creation of pipes and drums bands in as many state secondary schools as possible?

‘I worry our beautiful music, and dancing too, will only be accessible to, and enjoyed by, a small minority taught solely in private schools (perhaps going the same way I tend to think of opera and ballet) and to the detriment of all.

‘After all, who are we without our culture, with which to identify? The Scottish Government should have the will, and a robust plan, to keep it alive and thriving for all.’

Indeed Claire, and thank you very much for that. It is in state schools in our rural areas that most work needs to be done. In the cities there are bands, as I alluded to in my original piece, and also let us not forget the Boys’ Brigade.

The 12th Paisley Boys’ Brigade pipe band in 1952. The BB has taught thousands of youngsters the pipes free of charge

Bands and the BB, as I and hundreds of others know personally, have been a piping lifeline for disadvantaged children for the past 100 years, maybe more.

Out in the rural regions children can be much more isolated. Here we can point to the work of the South West Scotland Pipe and Drum Academy down Dumfries way and in the Highlands the Fèisean nan Gàidheal movement provide a focus.

The latter is funded indirectly by the Scottish Government and that has to be a good thing. The SWPDA relies on the philanthropy of the Grant family, those generous piping benefactors.

But the endeavours of these bodies and many others should be seen not as a mainstay, more as supplementing a national programme of learning fixed permanently in the state school curriculum.

If it takes seven years to make a piper then, if we start off in primary schools, those with the will and dedication, will leave secondary with a life skill as important as any talent for trigonometry.

South West Scotland Pipe & Drum Academy

Clearly in these pages we are most concerned with piping and to a lesser extent drumming, but this long-term planning should hold good for all musical instruments

The second letter we published was from regular correspondent George Barlow in the US. George: ‘Hope you can answer this question for me; does the UK not have local school boards that present a budget for locals to vote on?

‘Do you guys [UK] not have a school tax? Here in the US every state requires the local school boards to present a budget to vote on by the local residents; it’s commonly called a school tax.

‘It covers everything from salaries, maintenance, to extra curricular activities: sports, music, language clubs etc. What’s up with the UK?’

No is doesn’t work like that here George. Education is run by the local authorities, though ultimate responsibility for it rests with the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Residents in a particular council area pay a tax to local authorities for all services, not just schools, but the bulk of their income comes from grant allocations from Edinburgh.

If voters and taxpayers don’t like how their money is being spent they can vote them out at local and national elections. The problem for piping, and other music teaching, is that when the financial screw gets turned we are always first to face cuts.

Music is seen as extra-curricular rather than mainstream. Until the people and the politicians decide to change that the current position will continue for the forseeable future.

5 thoughts on “Responses from Readers to Our Report on Piping Tuition in Scotland’s State Schools

  1. Great article Rab.
    Please pass my details on to Dominic Murphy and tell him that the South West of Scotland Piping & Drumming Academy would be delighted to receive a monthly contribution from him. It costs us around £130,000 a year to carry on what we are doing – working with around 175 school children, in 17 schools (a good number of which are in a low income area), in a very rural area of Dumfries & Galloway where the furthest apart schools we are working with are 48 miles apart. One wee boy piper travels 52 miles each way to attend our monthly workshops, and gets all other tuition via Skype. 54% of our total annual costs comes from constantly applying to various funders.

  2. In my humble opinion, as a former school teacher and judo instructor (now semi-retired, working part-time as a piping tutor), the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument (especially the pipes !) will help with learning other subjects in school: it will improve concentration and memory; it will help youngsters overcome challenges in life; it will inspire, and increase determination to continually improve oneself.

  3. I wonder what the actual cost if producing a polypenco chanter is,
    Probably the material cost nit much more than a few pence.
    It seems to me that a number if Bagpipe manufacturing takes place in Scotland and it would be in their interests to provide practice chanters free if charge to schools or, if not free charge only for the actual material cost.
    In thus day and age and I know there will be acceptions to the rule,children appear to get reasonably good pocket money, start a chanter club and let the child pay into the club to buy his chanter, a win win fir the child and a win win for the manufacturers and of course a win win for piping.
    The same approach might be taken once Bagpipe and Drums are required.

    1. Apologies for typos, should have gone to spec savers.
      To further the debate on providing chanters etc,I am willing to donate monthly if anyone is interested in setting up a fund,there is no point in waiting for the government to solve the issue, if WE want Piping and Drumming to continue our legacy should be to help in solving the issues.

      1. Further to my earlier comment, I should have added that in Dumfries & Galloway we have been challenged to form three schools Pipe Bands. The demand we have to go into more schools, and to spend more time in the Secondary Schools we are teaching i at present, far exceeds what we can afford.
        At the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Competition on March 10th in Kilmarnock our Dumfries & Galloway Schools Pipe Band was awarded 2nd place in Junior ‘C’ class, This in a class of 11 bands – 6 or 7 of which were from private fee paying schools, but all of them from either single schools or from a cluster of schools attached to one secondary school. Our band consisted of children from 12 separate schools – the furthest apart schools being 31.4 miles from each other. A logistical nightmare.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *