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.

1. THIS REVIEW DID NOT HAVE A MANDATE TO COMMENT ON ISSUES OF CHILD PROTECTION BUT URGES CHILDREN’S SAFEGUARDING BOARDS AND THE INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS INSPECTORATE TO PAY ATTENTION TO ALL SCHOOLS ESPECIALLY, BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY, BOARDING SCHOOLS INCLUDING THOSE CONCERNED WITH “SPECIAL” PUPILS OR THOSE THAT HAVE ELITE STATUS. THIS INCLUDES SO CALLED “FREE” SCHOOLS THAT EXIST TO SOME EXTENT OUTSIDE OF LOCAL NETWORKS.

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.