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Western tunes fall flat

Music lessons are failing to inspire ethnic-minority pupils to learn an instrument. Graeme Paton reports.

Ethnic-minority children are refusing to take up an instrument because schools are hooked on western music, say researchers.

Fewer black and Asian pupils take the subject than their white classmates, according to almost two-thirds of secondary music teachers answering a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

The lack of involvement defies Labour's 2004 music manifesto, designed to enable more pupils to learn an instrument.

Ministers have admitted that they are still failing to address underachievement among certain groups, including ethnic-minority pupils, partly as a result of a shortage of black and Asian teachers.

Caroline Filmer-Sankey, one of the NFER researchers, said: "Teachers were aware that this was an acute problem, but there was a general feeling that they didn't really know what to do. There does not seem to be an overall strategy in place to tackle it."

The NFER surveyed 500 secondary heads of music and 295 community organisations as part of a study to gauge ethnic-minority interest in ensemble music. The teachers believed that 90 per cent of pupils described as white British were likely to take part regularly in optional music-making activities.

But only 53 per cent of black African pupils and 47 per cent of Indian children were likely to participate, they said. This fell to 27 per cent among pupils of Pakistani heritage and 19 cent of Bangladeshi children.

Teachers said this was often down to religious and cultural reasons.

One teacher said: "Muslim children normally stay out of music; they are a tough sector to crack. Some children withdraw from music because of their strict religion."

Another said that Asian parents were more concerned about academic achievement.

One teacher told researchers that music was a middle-class western ideal which ethnic-minority parents might not share.

Idris Mears, head of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: "The whole subject of music is a difficult one for the Muslim community. Most music is seen as frivolous and promoting values that go against the ethics of Islam.

Music is often seen as that which moves the body, which is not deemed appropriate at all, and there is a lot of debate over the use of instruments.

"Muslim schools concentrate purely on vocal music and they will include the Koran, which requires elements of rhythm and voice control."

The study, commissioned by Youth Music, a charity promoting music to under-18s, said that schools often failed to overcome some of the hurdles, concentrating on Western styles at the expense of world music. Community groups, not schools, were more likely to hold activities related to the cultural backgrounds of ethnic-minority groups, said the report.

The NFER wants schools to use ethnic-minority musicians to act as positive role models for children, to develop greater links with religious and parental groups outside schools and provide ring-fenced funding to ensure all pupils can take up an instrument. It also urged local authority music services to consider recruiting more ethnic-minority teachers.


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