Schools are allowing Muslim families to withdraw their children from music lessons because learning an instrument is forbidden according to some Islamic beliefs.
Hundreds of pupils are thought to have been removed from state school music classes despite the subject forming part of the statutory National Curriculum.
Parents have no automatic right to withdraw their children from subjects such as music, although legal exemptions exist for religious and sex education.
However, in one London primary school about 20 pupils were removed from rehearsals for a Christmas musical and one five-year-old girl remains permanently withdrawn from mainstream music classes.
The details, which emerged after a BBC investigation, provoked concerns from Ofsted and education experts. Some Muslims believe that playing musical instruments is forbidden in the same way that alcohol is banned.
At Herbert Morrison Primary in Lambeth, 29 per cent of children come from mainly Somalian Muslim families. Headteacher Eileen Ross said some parents “don’t want children to play musical instruments and they don’t have music in their homes”.
One girl remains permanently withdrawn from the school’s music curriculum, which consists of a government-backed project to learn instruments such as the violin or cello.
“For goodwill I allow that parent to withdraw their child from all music but I am in fact denying the child the opportunity that the other children in the class have,” she told BBC London News.
The Open University’s Dr Diana Harris, an expert on music education and Muslims, said she had visited schools where half of the pupils were withdrawn from music lessons during Ramadan. She claimed Ofsted inspectors sometimes turned “a blind eye” to the issue.
“Although I wouldn’t want anyone to do anything against their religion, I feel there’s a lot in music which gives us great joy in life,” she said.
The Muslim Council of Britain said music lessons were likely to be unacceptable to about 10 per cent of the Muslim population, which meant hundreds of children were being withdrawn from classes.
But a spokesman for Ofsted said: “Music is an important part of any child or young person’s education. Any examples of pupils being treated unequally would be a matter of significant concern.”
The BBC London News report is on BBC1 at 6.30pm tonight.