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Huge swell of support for public inquiry into English music schools

Signatories to Ian Pace’s appeal for a public investigation into sexual malpractice run ito the hundreds and more are still signing here. The list so far will be published in tomorrow’s Guardian newspaper.  Around half the signatories are graduates of Chetham’s, the Manchester school where Mike Brewer conducted the indecent assaults of which he has been convicted. The list includes conductor Daniel Harding, violinist Lisa Batiashvili, oboist ad conductor Douglas Boyd, pianist Andrei Gavrilov, cellist Steven Isserlis, tenor Mark Padmore and many other prominent names.

The schools have maintained a policy of strict silence, presumably on the advice of legal counsel.

Meanwhile, the distinguished pianist Peter Donohoe has written a 6,000-word essay attempting to reconcile his experiences at Chet’s and RNCM with the grim allegations that have come to light over recent weeks. Read him here.

Peter Donohoe  - English pianist, May 1993.

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  1. Concerned parent says:

    It’s disturbing to see people involved with Chetham’s insisting on fb and elsewhere that there are no ongoing problems, that all is fine and the management is doing an excellent job. The suggestion is that the best thing to do now is to batten down the hatches and wait for all this to blow over.

    I would suggest this has essentially been the approach whenever a similar scandal has hit music schools in recent years (eg St Mary’s, Purcell) and it will not do.

    I’m pleased the Headmistress is suggesting an independent review will take place after police investigations are complete but this is very vague:

    1. How long will the police investigations take? It could be months and months – there is no reason not to begin an extensive review of all pastoral care, and especially relationships between instrumental teachers and students, right now. This would begin with skilled outsiders interviewing the children in depth (and where necessary, parents/guardians) about their experiences of the musical regime at Chets – this has never happened before at the school. The children’s comments and experiences should be the starting point because they are what the school is all about, and the best authorities about what is going awry.

    2. Who will do the review?

    3. What will its terms of reference be? I fear the school will try to restrict its remit to proven sexual abuse (in the not unreasonable hope that this will confine all wrong-doing and responsibility to the “historic past”) when the problem is the wider culture of music schools which being built around out-dated attitudes towards musical training of talented students by maestro-type figures licenses unacceptable levels of psychological abuse. When management’s concern for the external image and performance of the institution overrides concern for the welfare of individual children, there is little chance that the necessary critical self-reflection and reform will take place.

  2. As an ex-student who spent 6 happy years at the school in the mid-2000s, I feel compelled to articulate a little of my experience of the school in the hope that it may provide a little perspective on the current scandal and it’s context in the present school.

    The first point I would like to make is that so far as I am aware, all allegations surrounding the school relate to past abuses in the 1980s which is well before the current administration took over (Please correct me if I am wrong about this) and began changing the way the school was run. I appreciate that Mr Li is a current teacher at the school and as such has quite rightly been suspended until police investigations into the matter surrounding him have concluded but according to the Chethams website, the matter in question is also historic, ie pre current administration. Mr Li maintains his innocence and as we as a society have enshrined the principal of the presumption of innocence into our laws, I believe it is rather premature to rush to a judgement on this particular matter when as of this moment according to the Manchester Evening News, Mr Li has, as yet, not been charged with any crime, let alone found guilty of committing it. By extension, I believe it is premature to rush into making changes to the way the school runs until it is known that abuse has occurred under the current administration. I will elaborate further.

    I have spoken to many of my peers from my time at the school and we are all under the impression that much of the way the school handles pastoral care has changed considerably since the time when the abuses of Mike Brewer et al. took place. The descriptions of lessons in enclosed rooms and senior staff turning a blind eye to or ignoring reports of abuse (sexual or otherwise) just do not reflect our experience of the school. There are multiple points of contact with school staff to discuss any issues including:

    Personal Tutor
    House Parent
    Numerous House Assistants
    Instrumental Teacher
    Head of Instrumental Department
    Numerous Practice Assistants
    School Counselors

    all of whom were friendly, approachable and able to listen to and help with any number of issues. As far as reviews of pastoral care go, the school has scored consistently highly in recent years when inspected, with the only real black mark against it being the quality of catering which improved dramatically after one of the reviews with the replacement of the chef. I suspect that any independent review of pastoral care at the school would conclude that they are doing things right.

    I should also point out that I find it unlikely that this kind of sexual abuse could have gone unnoticed at the school during the time I was there as all lessons took place in practice rooms with windows and there were multiple practice assistants roaming the corridors checking into each room randomly to make sure that students were indeed getting on with their practice rather than gossiping in their friend’s practice room. Heads of instrumental department also often visited lessons unannounced to listen in, find out how things were progressing musically, presumably in order to form opinions regarding orchestral and chamber music placements.

    @ CP As far your assertion of maestro-type figures and out-dated attitudes to musical training go, this is just a complete nonsense. The vast majority of teachers at Chets were young dynamic and enthusiastic members of the profession with a genuine love of music and a passion for teaching and those that weren’t were gradually being replaced.

    No doubt concerned parent will find my defense of the school disturbing, but everything that has been said of the school in recent weeks just does not reflect my experience of the school and in the interest of a balanced debate, I felt it necessary to share my somewhat different opinion.

    Finally, I feel that it would be a great shame if this scandal were to cause long lasting damage to the school (maybe it already has?) as it really is a fantastic place to study and I for one hope that future generations may continue to benefit from it.

    • Concerned parent says:

      I am pleased Ex-student’s experiences were so positive at Chets but that is demonstrably not true for everyone who has been at Chets in the last 10 years, particularly perhaps for younger pupils.

      I am well aware that there are excellent academic teachers at the school and many outstanding instrumental teachers.

      Inspections were not always quite as positive as you make out, and in any case have many areas of weakness, not least that they do not look into the all-important instrumental teaching. Chethams itself recognises this lack and tries to remedy it with its own questionnaire, but the results always seem to get buried and have yielded no obvious improvements.

      I have documented personal experience of the multiple failings of the pastoral care system in practice, and the psychological abuse that is a routine part of some teachers’ approach. I trust this is confined to a handful of teachers, but the larger issue here isn’t a few bad apples but a culture of management, which for whatever reason (and of course my explanations are speculative and partial), has turned a blind eye, and so failed to protect and nurture the vulnerable children whose musical education it is responsible for.

      The greater shame is surely not any “lasting damage” the present scandal might cause the school, but if nothing at all changes for the better at Chethams and other similar institutions. The shame is in dismissing the suffering, not least Ms Andrade’s terrible death, and the courage of all those who have come forward since with further revelations or calls for change.

      • @CP – I was wondering whether you are a parent of an ex- or current pupil at Chets?

        I am sorry to hear you have documented personal experience of “the multiple failings of the pastoral care system in practice” and was wondering whether this relates to failings as they are currently, or some time in the past?

        As a parent of a child currently attending the school, I can only commend the school for its pastoral care system. My experience is that the school deals effectively with complex pastoral issues, and whilst it may react slower than some parents wish, its procedures and handling of such issues are far better than the majority of most boarding schools. Similarly to Ex-student’s experiences, I also don’t recognise ‘psychological abuse’ being a routine part of some teachers’ approach. There are some instrumental teachers who are particularly hard task masters, who have the highest expectations for their students, but I could not define that as ‘psychological abuse’.

        I do of course agree with your sentiment that this scandal must fully investigate what has occurred in the past, but I find it difficult to accept the presumption that there is a continuing problem.

        • Concerned parent says:

          I’m a current parent. I’m pleased your experience of the school on the pastoral front has been positive but this is by no means universal – an indication of this is the turnover of staff heading the junior house in recent years (I believe things are much better under the new incumbent, but that is more about luck in a decent person ending up in the job, than effective systems or management or else it would not have taken multiple complaints before the previous one moved). By comparison with other high achieving (boarding) schools for girls, there are (to my knowledge) gaps in policies and procedures, staff inadequacies (number, turnover, training) and a tendency to a very high-handed tone in communications with parents from the upper echelons of the school. Of course pastoral issues are complex – the children are highly talented, driven, in a hothouse atmosphere, often from odd or difficult families and not infrequently afflicted by a a range of learning or psychological or medical conditions – but for that reason the school should be extra well equipped to deal with them. Instead so long as they are performing well musically and academically “problems” are swept under the carpet. Once a child ceases to perform well musically – perhaps because of such “problems” – it often ends up leaving, feeling of course like a failure and without the energy or confidence to complain. And so it goes on. You will notice I haven’t talked about psychologically abusive instrumental teachers – I hope they are now few and far between at Chets, but they do exist and most people there know they do, even if it is dressed up as part of the wonderful method which produces such high-achieving students.

  3. Interested observer says:

    It is worth noting that Mr. [redacted]‘s alleged rape was brought to the attention of both the police and the school management soon after it occurred. An official reprimand was placed on his file for the duration of one year.

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