New Surrey Safeguarding Report on suicide of Frances Andrade draws attention to dangers of music education

A report published today by the Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board (which can be accessed here; a summary and press release can be downloaded here). There is much to be said about the long report and its comments on Chetham’s School, but I wanted for now to draw people’s attention to one passage in particular which is most pertinent:

Music schools, in common with other “hothousing” establishments, create pressures that may have a particularly damaging impact on young people who are vulnerable and/or without parental support. These settings are competitive, and feed into expectations already placed on the young person to be “special” and to succeed. The adults around them, who are often prominent performers in their own right, are invested with exceptional power and influence and are in a position of trust from which they exert considerable leverage over whether their pupils achieve success in their chosen fields. The music world is not alone in this regard, -similar pressures arise in elite sports academies, boarding schools, ballet schools, cathedral and choir schools, drama and performing arts courses, art schools and other areas of endeavour that create a backdrop for this very particular and potent form of grooming.

‘Chethams School provided an ideal environment for this kind of abuse to occur. The school seemed unaware of the risks of sexual abuse and it does not appear to have proactively promoted a child protection agenda. Boundaries were blurred and some staff seemed at times to act with impunity. When, Mrs A was sent, as a teenager, to live with MB and his family it was effectively a private fostering arrangement, put in place without any proper scrutiny or formal overview. The atmosphere of elite performance teaching created what one pupil described as a belief that you were “special”6 and it placed teachers in an exclusive and powerful position in relation to their protégés.

In response to this case another music teacher (MR), a man who had acted as a whistle-blower, published an article offering a window onto the culture in these circles at the time we are speaking of from which it can be seen that Mrs A was not alone in being at risk from abusive sexual relationships and unprofessional behaviour. MR later said,

Music lessons are one-to-one… So, if you’re determined to behave wrongly, there’s the opportunity: “It’s one of the easiest situations to abuse, I would have thought.”

He further discussed how music teaching in particular, takes place in a context of emotional intensity and that pupils’ crushes on staff are commonplace.

So this culture of sexualised behaviour between teachers and pupils that developed in the school at that time was, to some extent, known about and condoned. This culture may also have prevailed at the Royal Northern College of Music as there was considerable overlapping of staff, and this became the focus of contention specifically in relation to the appointment of ML to a senior post at the college. MR publicly confronted the principle of the college about the suitability of this appointment, given widespread allegations about ML’s sexual exploitation of young women students, at considerable cost to his career7. When he made his concerns public, he received many letters of support from students disclosing past abuses and concerns. Mrs A was one such pupil/student. When his whistle-blower’s warnings went unheeded, he recounted that

“Letters from pupils and professional musicians poured in, one was from [Mrs A] … She was a force to be reckoned with …”There was tremendous passion and anger.” Chethams therefore represented a very particular context in which it was possible for MB to target and groom Mrs A from a position of trust, power and influence. Although it seems to have been common knowledge that some teachers within the music network around Chethams and the Royal Northern Music School had sexual relationships with their pupils this was not formally addressed.


Having written about this very subject myself almost a year ago (Ian Pace, ‘The culture of music education lends itself to abuse’, Times Education Supplement, May 11th, 2013), I am more than glad that others are starting to recognise this issue and the particular problems inherent to musical education. More to follow later.

12 Comments on “New Surrey Safeguarding Report on suicide of Frances Andrade draws attention to dangers of music education”

  1. Philip Ward , pupil at Chetham's Hospital School says:

    It is worth remembering that Chethams was, prior to becoming a specialist misic school, a Cathedral Choir School, with day, weekly and term boarding pupils, and there is evidence to demonstrate that the abuse which occured at the school goes back to at least the 1950’s. Operation KISO has conducted investigations into that era, but has indicated that pursuing them further would not result in a realistic chance of succeeding, the perpetrators are now beyond the law.

  2. Elaine Green says:

    Just like the Jimmy Savile revelations, and all that has gone on to show, that this behaviour was going on everywhere, and in all kinds of educational places; I can remember the “crushes” I had on various tutors, maybe just to rub shoulders with famous musicians, but I was never abused physically ( maybe verbal suggestions/flattery I recall on reflection). I possibly wasn’t attractive/high flying enough to suffer this abuse at RNCM (junior & full-time student 1964 – 1975). I would imagine some students would be home-sick and perhaps felt comfort from the attention shown, some more than others obviously! I am so sad when I think about these poor young people. Hopefully children these days will speak out more quickly, as I find them to be much more readily vocal these days, they certainly answer back and criticise adults quite freely and openly with alarming maturity too.I personally spent some of the happiest years of my life at RNCM. Elaine Sapier Green.ARMCM ARNCM

    Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2014 15:00:23 +0000 To:

  3. Faye says:

    The whole classical music establishment needs to get over the idea (which is no more than prejudice) that to be a professional musician one needs to have played an instrument from the age of 4. Imagine if we trained doctors or accountants in the same way? There is no reason (and no evidence apart from prejudice) why we couldn’t move to a situation where classical music training started much later, at 17 or 18. We would just have to change the rules of all the competitions to reflect this and change the age expectations of tutors, teachers, competition judges and audition panel members, but there is no reason why it can’t be done.

    • Ian Pace says:

      I don’t really know how feasible that would be with string players in particular – if the basic skills were not learned from a young age, I believe the difference in adulthood would be palpable. The idea that one needs to learn some instruments from a young age is not merely arbitrary.

      • Faye says:

        If it’s not merely arbitrary, where is the evidence? There is no evidence. Have scientific trials been done on this? No, because music is full of too many teachers who are self-proclaimed experts on child physiology and the development of fine motor skills, but who are too full of prejudice and too arrogant to conduct any research in this area. Have any of these people actually studies physiology? Have they ever published in peer-reviewed journals of child medicine? I doubt so.

        • Ian Pace says:

          It may be possible to take up a string instrument at age 17 or 18 and develop the sort of level of intonation we have come to expect from professionals, but I’ve never heard of a case of it occurring.

          • Faye says:

            Of course you wouldn’t have heard of it, no-one starts at that age because of all the prejudice against it. Try, as an experiment, phoning up a well-known violin teacher, the sort that takes on children of 4 or 6, and saying you’re 17, a beginner and very keen on a professional career, and would like to take up the violin. They would laugh. And once you’re in a Conservatoire as a mature student watch all the opportunities for concerto competitions fly by because they are for under 25s. And then when you send your CV for an audition, listen to comments you get because you didn’t go to Chets, weren’t in the National Children’s Orchestra, never even played in a County Orchestra, and didn’t win any competitions when you were 12.
            If we removed all these barriers we might even start to see some older starters.

        • Ian Pace says:

          Certainly I’ve heard numerous late starters on string instruments where the disadvantages are palpable.

          • Faye says:

            …and I’ve had the misfortune of hearing even more young musicians who started at 4 and who, at the age of 14, are still struggling with the basics, and certainly do not play in any “musical” way, even with the best of teachers and the pushiest (or should it be “most encouraging”) of parents. As I said, it’s all anecdotal evidence. We need scientific studies. And no-one in the musical establishment is willing to challenge these prejudices.

  4. Michael says:

    The title of this blog entry is misleading. This report does not point to the “dangers of music education”. It points to the dangers of a particular type of hothousing which is common amongst trainee “establishment” classical musicians. The type of hothousing which involves having young children practicing for unreasonably long hours and being sent to places such as Chethams.

    I agree with “Faye” above. If the classical “establishment” weren’t so obsessed with training young children and instead allowed older teenagers the chance to train into this world most of the issues noted in the article would disappear.

    And lets not forget the abuse by parents who are convinced their children are “gifted” and give them a wholly unnatural childhood deprived of games and socialisation in order to fulfil their own (not really their children’s) musical aspirations.

  5. […] New Surrey Safeguarding Report on suicide of Frances Andrade draws attention to dangers of music edu… (10/4/14) […]

  6. […] New Surrey Safeguarding Report on suicide of Frances Andrade draws attention to dangers of music edu… (10 April 2014). […]

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