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Demands grow for public inquiry into English music schools

A bandwaggon has started to roll. The complete silence of three music schools about allegations of sexual abuse, past and recent, has set in motion a growing outcry for an independent assessment of the evidence that the schools failed to protect pupils from sexual predators.

The movement is being led by past students of Chetham’s, the Manchester school at the centre of the Mike Brewer case and the tragic death of Frances Andrade. A petition was posted last  night by the pianist and musicologist, Ian Pace. It has already won support from such distinguished Chet’s alumni as the pianist Paul Lewis and the oboist and conductor Nicholas Daniel. Here is the text of the petition.

Quote: ‘The prevalence of sexual abuse which appears to have continued unhindered over many years suggests an alarming lack of responsibility and competence in the management of a school which had, above all, a duty to protect the welfare of its students and to nurture the artistic potential of every pupil.’

To add your voice, please email


frances andrade

A further call has come from the pressure group EnoughAbuseUK, which tweeted:  Stop cover ups 1 to 1music tuition is a gift for illintending to sexually abuse  supports an enquiry.

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  1. Do you mean the *oboist* Nicholas Daniel?

  2. “Demands grow for public inquiry into English music schools” – make that British music schools.
    Please don’t forget about St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh. Forgive me for remaining anonymous.

    St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh is under scrutiny by the Care Commission after being hit by a third sex scandal in just over a year. Ashley Turnell, a 36-year-old teacher at the specialist music school, was struck off the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s register last month, following his conviction over a four-month sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy. In October, 2008, Jamieson Sutherland, a singer in St Mary’s choir and a music teacher, was jailed for 18 months after he was caught with more than 4,000 child pornography images on a computer; and last August, a house parent, Ryan Deneven-Lewis, was put on probation after he groomed two teenage girls at the school.

    A school assistant has admitted having sex with a pupil and behaving indecently towards an underage girl at a boarding school.
    Ryan Deneven-Lewis, 27, was employed as deputy house parent to look after boarders at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh when he committed the offences.
    He encouraged a 15-year-old girl to perform various sex acts on him as they played pool in the school dining room. He also had unprotected sex with a 16-year-old boarder in her room.

  3. Interesting to re-read this article from the Guardian in 2005.

    The film critic Derek Malcolm is quoted as saying: “At Eton, if you were a fag master you chose the prettiest fag from among the lower boys. You just liked to have a pretty fag – I suppose it was a substitute for girls. The funny thing was, if you shagged one of the maids you were instantly expelled, but if you had anything to do with boys you got a severe ticking-off. And you hoped that by the end of your career at Eton you didn’t turn out to be gay. Eton produced a lot of people who had John Peel’s experience – mutual masturbation and all that sort of thing – but nobody was raped in my day.”

    Perhaps this is not only a music school problem…..

  4. Concerned parent says:

    I live in Scotland, looked at St Mary’s as a possibility for my child several times and did not know about this. Is the head who presided over all this still in post? There were rumours for years that discipline was lax at the school, staff were unhappy and I found the head autocratic and unsympathetic. All the specialist music schools need to stop resting on their laurels about pastoral care and put the welfare of their students genuinely at the heart of all they do. I can’t see how this can happen without a clean sweep of the highest echelons of management. Doubtless the governors, heads and senior managers who have been deafeningly silent so far in accepting any responsibility are all desperately hoping this scandal will go away so that normal service can be resumed. It’s exactly this attitude which has allowed the abuse to continue to flourish for so many years. Good on Ian Pace and his petition

  5. Ex-Student says:

    A lot more has gone on than has been revealed. Especially in a certain Scottish Music School. The boarding staff need to be investigated for both emotional and physical mistreatment of students. Does no one think it terrible that 2 former students have since married their houseparents? All the students knew what was going on at the time…

  6. Thank you for posting this, Norman, along with the info on Ian Pace. I just emailed him asking to be added to the list of signatures. It’s an excellent text and indeed, an independent assessment MUST be put in motion asap. I’m sorely afraid that in doing so, it is going to show a great deal more abuse in other institutions. Poor kids. It’s indescribable…

    All the best,

  7. Not just music schools says:

    As a music school graduate, and then teacher at a private boarding school, I can assure you that it is not just in the music sector that this is happening.
    I feel very sad that such(normally) wonderful nurturing environments are being singled out. The private school where I worked after graduating was very good at keeping things quiet. One young boy was sexually assaulted with a pool cue and while he was left physically and mentally scarred to the point that he left England for his native country, the 2 attackers were given a telling off and a grounding. I no longer work at this school after challenging said offence with the head, and being told that “they would hear no more on the matter”.
    As for members of staff marrying ex pupils, it is no place of ours to judge. Once they are over the age of consent, people can do as they please. While it may sit ill with most of us, due to the position of power that the teacher has been in, it is no different to a girl meeting an older man in a bar.
    Also, teachers seem to be getting younger, many are only 3-4 years older than their 6th form pupils, which is a very normal age gap for relationships. They come straight out of university where into a teaching post, and are still emotionally immature themselves. I personally do not like it, but we need to be careful to not tarnish people with a sexual predator brush just because we feel the situation is unsavoury. Unsavoury is not the same as illegal. And as a woman, I also know that when a 16/17 year old girl wants something, she will stop at nothing to get it, without thought or fear if consequence.

    • I disagree that relationships between students and someone who has ever been in charge of their pastoral and emotional wellbeing is ever appropriate. It is not the same as meeting an older person in a bar. As a teacher and (recent) former house parent, I would no more consider a relationship with one of my 18 year old students than I would with my doctor. It’s never ok.

  8. ex-choir school student says:

    Sadly the improper treatment of and behaviour around schoolchildren was rife amongst choir schools during the time I was in full time education.
    I attended one such establishment when I won a scholarship as one of a few sixth form girls in a boys choir school.On the second day after my arrival there I walked into the music office to find the head of music on the floor being’ tickled ‘ by six boys.
    It was ‘common knowledge’ that the head of Cathedral music at that school had interfered with several choirboys.There was also a ‘grooming system’ in place to catch young boys who showed leanings towards being homosexual and influence them steering them towards known paedophiles in the education system in our area.
    I felt thoroughly tainted by all this but as young girl it was one thing to see all of this and be intelligent enough to know what was going on and entirely another thing to be brave enough to act and oppose it-especially as being astute and honest wasn’t entirely encouraged in these circumstances.

  9. Edmund Coxon says:

    It is important to remember that sexually based misconduct exists in many forms and manifests in many arenas. We understand that this is so but this cause, if I can call it that, is quite specific to the historical existence and incidents within specialist musical education and its establishments and is borne of the particular circumstances surrounding the conviction of a former choir master and death of his victim, a decidedly talented and honest musician. I think it right, having spent my entire formative educational career at St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, that any enquiry extends to Scottish institutions as there were few boundaries in this tight community when it came to teachers attending from other English establishments as visitors giving ‘master classes’. There were frequent exchanges and visitations at St. Mary’s in my time and unfortunately the ‘scandals’ – most of which was excited gossip between unknowing children vying for preferential treatment – came to little more than just that, excited gossip among innocents! The stewardship at St. Mary’s has been somewhat autocratic (and oft said) for a number of years under the guidance of its leader(s) and still is! There can be little doubt in this day and age of form filling, statistics, performance related pay, micromanagement and bureaucracy that to head up such a place, is an unenviable task. However, as poisoned a chalice as it may be, it doesn’t mean one can be turn a ‘blind eye’. I can find criticism both positive and negative in St. Mary’s – I feel strongly Scotland should be included in these matters as problems shared and aired will help enormously in finding solution and resolve so we can promote a healthy educational environment for our pupils and students – we owe it to them and their brilliance and we owe it to ourselves and the United Kingdom which produces some of the finest musicians the world over!

  10. Not only music schools says:

    I have to concur with “Not just music schools”. I was abused at a boarding school, aged 12, and consequently retreated to the practice rooms to form an unhealthy and obsessive relationship with music. Unfortunately I happened to be quite good at it and went on to study later at music school. The combination of abuse and the pressures of a hothouse musical training (which in itself can be emotionally intense) can be psychologically problematic to say the least. And I should imagine that if the abuse and training are concurrent, it would be even more so.

    I only mention this because boarding schools (music or others) are acting in loco parentis, and although signs of abuse are not always easy to spot, even for the professionals, the least they can do is to minimise the risk of hiring abusive staff. If an approach of the kind suggested by Robert Fitzpatrick elsewhere on this blog were employed, and warnings were heeded, maybe Wells Cathedral School wouldn’t have appointed Malcolm Layfield (or indeed other institutions like RNCM).

    Although as Robert Fitzpatrick says, silence can be all too quickly turned into a witch-hunt, there is the hope that the current debate can become more of a catharsis – which might lead to a renewal and revitalisation of music education. However there is also the danger that it might lead to bureaucratic solutions that are more concerned with “plausible deniability” than with addressing the underlying problems.

  11. Can I mention that the deadline for signing this petition is midday on Tuesday, February 19th (tomorrow, at the time I am writing this) – if you wish to sign, please do either leave a comment on that or e-mail me before then. There are pushing 400 signatories so far, but we still want more.

  12. It's (even more) complicated... says:

    I’ve been meaning to contribute to these discussions for some while, but wasn’t sure where best to jump in. This thread is no less inappropriate a place to write than any of the others; apologies in advance. Besides, I feel somewhat awkward about doing so, as I did not attend a specialist music school (or indeed a music college), and I was never abused physically or sexually and was never conscious of it happening to anyone else. But some have pointed out that “the issues raised” can occur anywhere, and I thought I would share a few disjointed musings.

    I feel greatly relieved not to have received institutional (or, indeed, parental) hothousing as a musician. I attended a (well-known and very old) school which, at least for the last hundred years or so, allowed and increasingly encouraged the musically-inclined to put their heart and soul into their musical endeavours, yet largely as an option outside the compulsory programme, and therefore without the hothouse overlay. As a music scholar in this system I found that I could nurture my music-making with an almost naive lack of embarrassment or anxiety, seeking the highest standards for their own sake while also enjoying the camaraderie of my fellow musicians (and, indeed, to a large extent and entirely innocently, of teachers and other participating adults) and being blissfully unaware that there COULD be a darker side to making music.

    That is not to say that my school was perfect, by any means. Indeed, in the Georgian period and well into the Victorian era it had been notorious for institutionalised brutality, cruelty, “rough justice”, squalor and misery, all with a veneer of obscurantist academe, as if this was just how things naturally were. The adults at that time had either been completely naive or had believed that this was somehow tolerable, perhaps buying into weak excuses like “chin up, it’ll make a man of you” or “it never did me any harm in the long run”. Physical abuse had been routine in those days, and no doubt psychological abuse too, and the adults had certainly been implicated if not always directly involved. And one would have to be a fool to suggest that there was never a sexual element. I daresay it was common in those very bad old days.

    By the time I attended the school, in the 1990s, it was a COMPLETELY different place. From the later Victorian era onwards, there had been gargantuan efforts to bring it into line with the civilised world, where bullying and abuse and victimisation was simply unacceptable. As I described in the musical context, the utopian collegiate dream was by then to a large extent genuine. Some boys were still horrible to other boys a lot of the time, and there was still something of a hangover from the olden days when increasing seniority had meant literally ruling the roost (over junior boys), but the adults would no longer tolerate any form of brutality or unkindness if it came to their attention, and there was always the circulating urban myth that everything had been “SO much harsher X years ago”. Indeed, a few of the boys seemed actually to rue changes for the better, almost as if a more recognisably civilised regimen (and décor!) was too great a price to pay for loss of “liberties” (inter alia, presumably, to be able to bully with relative impunity). But there was perhaps just the slightest guilty preoccupation with what might still have been there, somewhere, in the deep, dark recesses of the cupboard of collective consciousness: a prurient interest in the bad old days, perhaps, or a remark now and again speculating what terrible things might be going on in OTHER schools… We didn’t want to think WE could ever be the ones who were messed up, but there was something lingering from the past and our distancing tactics bordered on corporate naivety.

    To be honest, while the adults had finally opened their eyes to the reality of physical abuse and moved much closer to zero tolerance, psychological abuse had never really disappeared. Far too many boys simply passed on to others the nastiness that had been directed at them when they were younger, but in a way that would less easily attract the attention of the authorities. It is fair to say that the day-to-day running of the institution relied largely upon an understanding of the fundamental goodness and trustworthiness of everyone in it, and some bad people were very adept at taking advantage of this, hiding behind an unspoken chivalric code of discretion and implicit reciprocal loyalty. And whenever there was a rumour of something seriously malign, in many people disgust was subverted towards wishful thinking: that “it couldn’t possibly be true (could it, really?), so let’s not even think about it, please…” And I’m afraid that about five years after I left for university, and under new management, the age-old decentralised and somewhat factional governance model really started to show its serious shortcomings. But I shan’t go into that on here.

    Finally, a few years ago, the institution embraced a far more centralised and proactive management model with a new strong figure at the helm, believing it to be the only possible solution, as the naive old ways were simply untenable in the modern world. I’d like to think this will have heralded the real end of any last vestige of indemnity for abuse or bullying there. But I do fear that one ill could all too easily be replaced by another: that of the all-powerful, infallible guru. The beauty of the place in my day as a pupil was that one could fully indulge one’s genuine interests and areas of curiosity and always find someone in the staff, or even other pupils, who would strongly encourage and celebrate this as a good thing in itself; we were almost expected to be eccentrics, and pupils were encouraged to be humbly inquisitive and questioning and never to be ashamed to dare to think for themselves and, where necessary, to challenge received opinion. (This stood us in good stead at university too.) But while the place remains pretty much the same from the point of view of the pupils, the new order places emphasis on humility of a subtly different sort: that of becoming a discerning and steadfast custodian of approved canonical learning, standing firm against the dangerous folly of intellectual permissiveness on the grounds that it leads to insubordination and heresy. Those who habitually employ the Socratic Method or (even unwittingly) contradict someone like St Thomas Aquinas might well find themselves under the spotlight. The idea that relative scholastic independence might in fact be considered a mark of deficiency in education and/or intrinsic cultural inferiority just highlights to me the seriousness of the problem of education whenever it is used (overtly or covertly) as a means of subjugation. Vindictiveness sticks around in some form or another, under some label or other…

    To be honest, although the place is now in my distant past, deep down I still harbour irrational shame and resentment. Despite being by no means immune from psychological baiting from a few other boys in the earlier years (which I took especial care NOT to repeat), my experience there was still overwhelmingly positive, especially from a musical point of view and also because I was free to develop and pursue all sorts of gloriously abstruse cultural and academic interests and make friends with other unashamed “misfits”. Yet this was supposedly in the antediluvian era, before the great cleansing. Does this mean I was just another accessory to abuse I couldn’t even see? Does it make me a cog in a bad wheel, defending the indefensible? And if the age-old collegiate ways WERE responsible for everything bad that went on over the decades, what does that make me, a staunch advocate of dynamic yet cordial pluralism with an instinctive fear of corporate conformist authoritarianism? And especially with widespread assumptions about the Old Boys’ Network (which I despise on principle anyway), this does raise doubts over whether I ever really “belonged” in that place after all, even when I thought I was thriving there and, in my individual way, felt at home. I regret to say that my confidence and sense of self-worth is now at its lowest point since I was fourteen, and I thought I had left all of that pain behind. And at the same time I still feel irrational guilt about the possibility of being a “traitor” to the institution, given how positive and formative my experience was there in so many ways, and that there are a lot of wonderful and fundamentally good people still living and working there, to whom I owe so much. To use the cliché, “it’s complicated”.

    I’m sorry that this has little or nothing to do with specialist music schools or music colleges! But again, Ian Pace has raised the question of the “guru teacher” phenomenon as a relevant factor. I can’t help feeling that I’m genuinely lucky enough never to have had any school teachers, music teachers, musical directors, university lecturers or supervisors who set out (even covertly) to reformulate their students in their own image. As I have hinted, this can be a very insidious form of abuse because it has its roots in an assertion of power (rather than just authority) over one’s charges. But if I may, I’d venture to suggest that the phenomenon of the guru teacher (in the more negative sense) is all too common in academia as well, and manifests itself in the form of fiercely rival theoretical “schools” which seem almost intent on being implacably opposed to each other but often fail to give a compelling account of why this should be the case, or even what if anything the disagreement is. This could be seen as part of an oppositional rhetorical mindset where one is recruited to the cause of fighting one corner in honour of one’s guru, even where one’s guru might not consider there to be any clear-cut dichotomy after all: the guru morphs into an omnipotent triumphant leader-in-battle whether he or she likes it or not…

    For fear of raising even more irrelevant points, I shall now shut up!

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