Cool, football-dominated playground culture is threatening a great English musical tradition. George Wright reports
A laddish culture dominated by football is preventing primary boys from joining church choirs for fear of being called "girly".
Despite the international recognition achieved by celebrity choirs such as King's College Cambridge, this "football monoculture" has led to a decline in boys' singing, argues Dr Martin Ashley.
Dr Ashley, of the faculty of education at the University of the West of England, told the Gender and Education Association conference, in Sheffield last month, that younger boys were particularly vulnerable to ridicule for "singing like a girl".
Several primary boys interviewed by Dr Ashley - members of a choir at an unnamed large city church in the south-west of England - reported teasing by classmates.
One said: "I'm teased and called a girl because I had a high singing part in Oliver."
Primary pupils' accounts suggested that football was "one of the few acceptable skills through which boys could earn peer esteem".
But in secondaries the stigma of singing is less apparent. A 13-year-old star soloist said that he was admired at his comprehensive for his talent.
Dr Oliver said his study, based on interviews with boys between 1999 and 2001, also showed a widening gulf between state and independent sectors. He cited an example of a church choir that had once had up to 30 boys, almost all from local state schools. Today almost half the 18 singers are from the private sector.
Dr Oliver says the independent sector is beginning to "colonise" the musical high ground. He says: "The tendency of many cathedrals to maintain independent, fee-paying schools as the source of their choristers has emphasised a divide in which 'high art' forms of musical culture have become the preserve of the privileged."
Jane Capon, of the Choir Schools' Association, said Dr Ashley's findings highlighted the neglect of singing in primaries. She said: "My generation was brought up singing with teacher, but that doesn't happen any more. The national curriculum has squeezed out music. Training rarely includes lessons on how to lead a class in song.
"Joining a choir is a great commitment for children and parents. In our busy and increasingly secular society, families are reluctant to spend Saturdays and Sundays going to practice and services."
The association, which represents 44 schools attached to cathedrals and churches, has just been awarded pound;50,000 by the Government for outreach projects.
More information from the CSA on 01359 221333