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Exclusive: European conservatories issue new guidelines on teacher-student relationships

Ahead of sentence being passed tomorrow on the Manchester sexual offender Michael Brewer,  the Council of the European Association of Conservatories in Brussels has issued a fresh set of guidelines on protecting both sides in music tuition.

It marks the beginning of a code of practice for music schools and colleges. Here is a key passage, leaked to Slipped Disc:

mike brewer



AEC Guidelines on Establishing Institutional Codes of Good Practice for Professional Teaching Conduct in Conservatoires

Institutional Codes of Practice should normally contain the following elements:
 A general description of the rights and responsibilities of teachers, students and administrative staff as understood by the institution
 A broad indication of the types of behaviour in the teaching situation which would be seen as infringing those rights or responsibilities
Some attempt to define the boundaries of the acceptable and unacceptable – e.g. the amount of body contact that is appropriate in teaching correct breathing procedures and the kinds of protocols that are recommended when operating in these areas (where such definitions take the form of detailed guidance relevant to a particular department/area of study, it may be more appropriate for them to be complied in the form of departmental supplements to the main code)
 Guidance on what action to take if an infringement does take place, together with clear indications of the person(s) to whom it should be reported
 An outline of the procedures which would then be enacted by the institution, including some sense of the range of sanctions that might be applied
 A strongly worded statement giving reassurance that those who report incidents in good faith will be supported in doing so and protected as far as possible from any negative repercussions, while, at the same time, confirming that incidents will be investigated in a way that safeguards individuals from malicious accusations
 The inclusion of some kind of reference to the genuinely consensual relationships that may arise from time to time between teachers and their adult students, with a statement as to the overall institutional view on these and clear guidance on the steps that both teacher and student should take – for their own protection and in fairness to others – if they should find themselves in such a situation.


UPDATE: The entire document has been made available – with difficulty – online. Here’s what you do:

1. Go to the AEC website at
2. On the left of the home page, click on “publications.”
3. On the page that opens, select from Section menu ”Policy Papers” and English as the language.
4. A list of PDF documents should appear, the 7th item is the new AEC Guidelines on Professional Teaching Conduct.  Click on the title and the document should open.
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  1. This is really excellent news – concerted action to clarify where boundaries lie.

  2. Concerned parent says:

    Very welcome and hugely overdue. Two questions immediately arise:

    (1) Why aren’t the British conservatories doing this? Or leading this?

    (2) What about specialist music schools? Where is their recognition that they cannot just rely on standard school policies, ISI inspections, the local authority’s safe-guarding office and warm words – which might be enough to address the potential for abuse in ordinary schools?

    The tardiness of British music schools in responding, or responding constructively, to Ian Pace’s petition suggests they still haven’t realised the gravity of the crisis and believe it is (just another) storm they can weather. Brewer’s conviction and the fall-out from it is a game-changer.

    I understand the British Education Minister has the power to shut down private schools and see them re-opened with new management. That might be the quickest, most efficient way to effect the change our specialist music schools need and to restore the trust of current and prospective parents.

  3. While generally good, there is a glaring weakness in these guidelines. It still allows for institutions to condone teacher-student relationships if between adults. Any relationship between a teacher and a student that they have power over (through grading, part assignment, etc.) is harassment by definition. You simply have to replace “teacher” with “supervisor,” and “student” with “employee.”

    We like to say that these teacher-student relationships are “special.” They are, but not in a way that should allow for sexual relationships to take place.

    • Malcolm James says:

      The HRA probably stops you from banning relationships between consenting adults outright, but the guidelines should ensure that by being open about the relationship, the teacher is not in a position of showing favouritism towards their student/lover, or being under suspicion of having done so. I am a university lecturer and assessment in my subject is largely exam based. There are many ways in which transparency might help prevent this, but you couldn’t prevent a lecturer giving their lover a peek of the exam paper. Assessment of instrumental students is by performance and you can ensure that their teacher is not on the panel assessing them.

      • I don’t what you’re referring to with “HRA.” Is that a British or EU thing? In the US, a teacher-student relationship even between consenting adults would be sexual harassment. It’s a civil violation (you can be sued but charged with a crime nor put in prison). Depending on your school’s policy, it could result in immediate dismissal. At my university, relationships between faculty and any undergrad (not necessarily your student) results in dismissal. You can date grad students that you do not have any authority over.

  4. Thus ends a centuries-old tradition. Now, what about casting couches?

  5. Peter Klein says:

    This is great news. I hope this will apply to German music schools as well, since there is a lot of misconduct there. The difference is that in Germany nobody is willing to address the situation, while in Britain, hard as it was, somebody finally let some of the truth out… But try to sue someone in Germany…..

  6. The vast majority of initial music teaching is done by private teachers. I am one of them. Good ones (and I jolly well hope I count as one of those) keep their training up and promptly join one of two organisations: either the Musicians Union or (as I did) the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

    Both of these organisations provide third party liability insurance. This I considered essential. I do not intend harm, but If a pupil trips over the cat, I do not want to be sued. (I ask in advance whether potential pupils may be allergic to Cats, he does live in the house where my teaching studio is attached).

    Both organisations also publish very strict guidelines over Professional Conduct. Again this is something I take very seriously. This is my living, and firstly I care about pupils, secondly I have standards.

    There was a comment about teaching breathing to singers. My field of expertise. I demonstrate where the breathing apparatus is by pointing on my fully clothed body. If I need any further details, then it is thumb-nail sketches in notebooks. I DO NOT GRAB HOLD OF STUDENTS AROUND THE RIB CAGE. That would be INAPPROPRIATE TOUCH. The most I do, is gently put a single hand on a shoulder to encourage a student to keep the shoulders down. There are no fists in diaphrams, or tummy muscles, the aim is to guide not molest pupils.

    Touch is occasionally necessary, but far less often than many teachers believe. No touch is too far. Minimal touch is as good as one can get. Certainly when I teach the piano, touch is used to balance arm weight, and to encourage the wrist and arm to relax. Again, it is not OTT, simply gentle and too the point. A correction, rather than grab and force. (I don’t want to claim on that insurance, or be accused of the wrong thing)

    With singers,and children then there is the issue of lyrics and age-appropriateness of material. A good teacher takes that into account, a bad one does not.

    There are some real shockers out there. Whatever the EU plans to do, the private market is unregulated. Safer to stick with the MU and ISM. (Incidentely qualified teacher status does not apply to instrumental teachers, neither does it need to be as the qualifications needed to gain QTS are designed for classroom teachers. Teaching one-to-one is a different skill altogether) I would, however look for a teacher who has the equivalent of a degree in music (or a diploma ) and/or professional performance experience. Teachers who offer a number of instruments (like I do) just learnt a lot. Their first instrument (in my case singing) will be the one they have the greatest knowledge on, however, if they keep up with their CPD, and have had a holistic education, they will be good teachers of the other instruments too.

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