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Lawyer behind Article 50 case to lead school music fees challenge

The following article was published in The Herald on Wednesday 24th April 2019 by Margaret Taylor. Click here to view on Herald Scotland website

THE SOLICITOR who secured a court ruling confirming that the UK can revoke the Brexit process without the say-so of fellow EU states has been brought on board to mount a legal challenge to the practice of charging for musical instrument tuition in schools.

Balfour & Manson chairman Elaine Motion has been instructed by Ralph Riddiough, a partner at Ayr firm Kilpatrick & Walker, who is seeking to raise £15,000 via crowdfunding site CrowdJustice to pay for the case.

Should the fundraiser be successful, Ms Motion will assemble the same team that took the so-called Article 50 case all the way to the Court of Justice of the European Union, with Aidan O’Neill QC and David Welsh acting as counsel.

Ms Motion and Mr O’Neill have worked together for two decades, mounting challenges that slowed down the introduction of both the Scottish Government’s named person initiative and ultimately repealed offensive behaviour at football matches law, and intervening in a Supreme Court case that led to Tory MP Chris Grayling’s hated employment tribunal fees being abolished.

They are also currently working on a judicial review on behalf of raw-milk cheesemakers including Errington Cheese, who together have raised close to £18,000 via CrowdJustice to pay for their case.

Ms Motion said the music case, which is seeking to prove that local authorities are breaking the law by charging for tuition, fits perfectly with the kind of work they have become known for.

“We try to fight for equality,” she said. “There are massive benefits to society from delivering musical tuition for children of all backgrounds. It’s extraordinary how it influences self-confidence and self-belief.

“This is an issue of public importance that affects people across the country in the same way as the named person and Wightman [Article 50] cases did.

“We’re raising the issue; we’re bringing it into the public domain so that it’s there, front and centre. Just because things are being done in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s right.

”Mr Riddiough decided to pursue the case after the majority of Scotland’s 32 local authorities either introduced or increased fees for instrumental tuition in the current school year, with some hiking the cost by as much 85 per cent.

Education is paid for by the Scottish Government via funds allocated to local authorities.

However, as many councils classify instrumental tuition, which is provided outwith the classroom setting, as discretionary and non-core to the curriculum, they cover the cost of providing it by charging fees to parents.

Mr Riddiough believes it is legally incorrect to class music tuition in this way, meaning those councils that do charge for lessons are breaching the terms of the 1980 Education Scotland Act.

“The problem with fees for lessons within the curriculum that schools determine to be discretionary is that it opens the door to a table of fees for other subjects too,” he said.

“Can you imagine a state school saying, here’s the basic, free, package and for those who can afford it, here’s the silver package and for the really well off, here’s the best we can offer?“

Well, this is happening already, during the school day, in state schools, in relation to music.

“Music is in the curriculum. If your child only gets the basic music package, they’ll be at a huge disadvantage compared to kids whose parents paid for specialist musical instrument tuition when it comes to being assessed in two instruments for their Scottish Qualifications Authority exams. This has to stop.

“It offends the principles of state school education and it narrows the curriculum for children from less well-off families. And it is against the law.”

Having launched the crowdfunder earlier this month, Mr Riddiough has already raised over £4,300 of his £15,000 target.

For Ms Motion, the crowdfunding aspect of the case is key, because it allows many people who are interested in the case but who would have no hope of bringing proceedings on their own to have a stake in the legal process.

“A small amount of money here and there makes a huge difference,” she said. “In Wightman there were thousands and thousands of small donations from people who cared.”