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There is a state school turning out world class musicians. The council wanted to shut it down

The City of Edinburgh Music School identifies talented musicians at a young age. 

If you're a state school pupil, which of the following do you have the least chance of getting into? Oxford, Cambridge – or the Royal Academy of Music?

In 2016, roughly six in ten students going to Oxford University came from state schools. At the Royal Academy of Music, a London college which commands much the same reputation in the musical world, the proportion was four in ten. 

Like Oxbridge, the elite music colleges argue that they invest in outreach, but it's ultimately up to schools to train students to the standard necessary for admission. In the same report setting out the above figures, the Royal Academy added: "It is important to recognise that preparation for a music career and development of the skills required to undertake advanced musical training in a conservatoire setting begin at an early age... There is currently limited (or, at best, highly variable) provision of music education in state schools."

There is, however, one state school which does exactly what the college requires – identifies exceptionally talented children at a young age and gives them the training to compete with the world's best musicians. And it could be closed down if Edinburgh City Council gets its way.

The City of Edinburgh Music School has been running for more than three decades, and has produced musicians including the late Martyn Bennett, a pioneer in Celtic fusion, Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, and Tommy Smith, the founder of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Alumni of a younger generation include Sean Shibe, a rising star in the classical guitar world, and many classical musicians from working-class backgrounds now playing in the UK's orchestras (full disclosure: my fiance is one of them). 

The school operates within two comprehensive schools, a primary school and a high school. In a city notorious for its educational postcode lottery, the music school is open for anyone with enough talent. Those who make it receive rigorous training from specialist music teachers – the kind that would make them eligible for an institution like the Royal Academy of Music.

The school's unique qualities mean that, surprise surprise, it is under threat from council cost-cutting. A plan to cut the school's budget and redistribute it among four different sites was recently leaked. 

The campaign to save it has won cross-party support, including from former pupil and Scottish National Party depute leader Angus Robertson, and the campaigning Green MSP Andy Wightman. Of course, it is easier to take up the cause of children playing violins when you are not directly responsible for the council budget, but nevertheless the campaigners have a point.

"Music", as taught in the school classroom, has very little relation to specialist music education, which focuses on mastering an instrument at a young age.

Careers also start young – Nicola Benedetti, one of Scotland's classical music stars, first shot to prominence at the age of 16. Eleanor Williams, a former pupil who began learning double bass at age 11, told me she needed the intensive teaching to catch up with the standard of her peers. "Learning to play music to a high standard takes a lot of time and dedication," she said, adding: "I could not have afforded to have private tuition during these years."

There are private specialist music schools, which can offer scholarships, such as St Mary's Music School, but the former City of Edinburgh Music School pupils I spoke to felt that the very word "private" was likely to put all but the pushiest ordinary parents off. 

Reuben Taylor, who now works in music production and plays in the band Storm the Palace, told me: "There's no way on this earth that my parents would have been able to afford piano lessons." Like other pupils, he felt that the school's presence in a normal comprehensive kept pupils open minded. "While it was mostly classical-music-focused, we were encouraged to look at all kinds of music," he added. "It was a real surprise for me how rigidly the music college I went on to afterwards enforced classical or art music as the only music."

After a campaign by former pupils, Edinburgh council meets on Tuesday to make a final decision on the budget. Campaigners are hopeful that the music school can be saved – at time of writing the council's leader tweeted that the cuts would be dropped from the budget – but nevertheless nervousness remains. Campaigners feel that nothing is certain until the budget meeting actually takes place.

Perhaps the council's idea would hold more weight if free instrument tuition in Scottish state schools, widespread when I was a child, wasn't disappearing.

While Oxford and Cambridge may be making slow progress on recruiting more state school pupils, access to the elite institutions of the music world will go the other way.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.