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Poor boys don't play the flute

Many school instruments lie unused. Are class barriers and gender stereotypes to blame? Jon Slater reports

Pupils from poor families are being denied the chance to play music despite thousands of instruments languishing in councils' cupboards, inspectors said today.

Learning to play a musical instrument has become the preserve of middle-class children, says the Office for Standards in Education report.

The cost puts off children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and little is done to encourage them, it says.

More also needs to be done to challenge gender stereotypes whereby instruments are perceived as "masculine" or "feminine" and to encourage pupils to continue learning instruments at secondary school.

Girls are nine times as likely to play the flute as boys and three times as likely to play the clarinet or violin. Boys are more likely to choose the trumpet, guitar or percussion. One head bought a set of brass instruments exclusively for the use of boys. Overall, girls are 50 per cent more likely to learn an instrument.

The Government's music manifesto, launched in July, promised that all primary children will be offered discounted tuition in future .

The Ofsted report, Provision of music services in 15 local education authorities, examined the support provided by councils to schools in a range of musical activities including support for school bands and orchestras; curriculum support; and professional development for teachers - as well as instrumental and vocal tuition.

It found that many schools fail to monitor access to instrument tuition for poorer groups who cannot afford lessons that typically cost pound;25 per hour.

A fifth of the instruments owned by council music services were not in use at the time of inspection. In one service, which was not named, more than a quarter of instruments were in storage and another third out of use because of poor maintenance. Two authorities made no contribution to their music services, having delegated all the funding to schools.

David Bell, chief inspector, said: "LEA music services and schools must work harder to identify and encourage those pupils who may wish to learn an instrument but who do not put themselves forward because of their family's financial circumstances."

The quality of tuition, however, was good or very good in 60 per cent of authorities and satisfactory in the remainder. Of almost 400 tuition sessions observed, more than a quarter were judged very good or better and more than a third good. But inspectors expressed disappointment that a third of the lessons identified by councils as good were no better than satisfactory. One in 20 was unsatisfactory.

Larry Westland, executive director of Music for Youth, said: "What we need is a sustainable structure to help children learn music. But the encouragement also needs to come from parents. That happens more in middle class areas."

subject focus: Music

Provision of music services in 15 local education authorities is available at

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