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Parents at troubled music school are consulted about making it safer

Chetham’s Music School in Manchester, at the heart of an inquiry into sexual abuse on the part of past teachers, has written to parents asking them to participate in a procedure that is supposed to improve safety for children. The questionnaire looks like another attack of  mind-numbing form-filling, but if parents make their views known fully and strongly enough it could result in a positive outcome. It is also good to see the school trying to move beyond the defensive paralysis of recent weeks. Here’s the Head’s letter:

chethams-school-of-music

 

Seeking the Views of Parents

Dear ,
I hope you and your family had a relaxing Half-Term break. It was good to see so many of you at all the music course concerts! As I wrote to you on 18th February, we are expecting a visit this week from Manchester Children’s Services, following all the recent publicity about historic allegations at Chetham’s. The visit will I hope give us the opportunity to demonstrate robust and effective safeguarding and welfare policies and procedures at Chetham’s in the modern era. The MCS team will be joined by two inspectors from the Independent Schools Inspectorate, who would like to invite all parents to take a few moments to complete a confidential questionnaire as part of the process. The questionnaire is available for you to complete online at http://surveys.isi.net/ <http://surveys.isi.net/> .

The unique code for your school’s inspection is [redacted] and you will need to enter this to complete the questionnaire. The online questionnaire must be completed by the evening of Wednesday 6th March to allow the results to be collated, so please complete the questionnaire as soon as possible. If you have more than one child at the school, you can complete a questionnaire for each child by following the prompts after completion of the first questionnaire. The completed questionnaire provides a valuable source of information for the inspection team and are designed to allow you to make detailed comments for the reporting inspector should you wish.

A good volume of returns ensures that the questionnaire process gives a balanced view of the school’s strengths and weaknesses. We appreciate that parents are busy and that inspection at short notice does not allow much time to complete the questionnaire. Inspectors value your feedback and thank you in advance for taking the time to contribute to the forthcoming inspection. Many of you have already contributed to our own music questionnaire in January, the results of which I will be letting the Independent Schools Inspectorate have too. The Independent Schools Inspectorate online questionnaire however is not solely focused on the musical provision but on all aspects of your child’s education at Chetham’s. In order to complete the online questionnaire you will need to put your child into a National Curriculum year group. At Chetham’s we name the year groups differently but the equivalent year group, which you should use in the online questionnaire, is shown in brackets in the guide below. Junior C (Year 4) Junior B (Year 5) Junior A (Year 6) Form 1 (Year 7) Form 2 (Year 8) Form 3 (Year 9) Form 4 (Year 10) Form 5 (Year 11) Lower 6 (Year 12) Upper 6 (Year 13) If you experience any difficulties with the online questionnaire, please contact updates@isi.net <mailto:updates@isi.net> .

Best wishes, Claire Moreland

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Comments

  1. Had a discussion with some fellow musicians about teaching kids in a “post Chethams” world. We strongly agreed that teaching talented kids would need to continue “one-to-one”. The best way to do this is with CCTV cameras. It protects the kids AND protects teachers.

    One assumes that all that “come down to my place for the weekend and we will do some intensive work on your technique” will have gone by now. If it doesn’t happen in school in open view, it shouldn’t happen at all. Any teacher who is suggesting an “away day” for selected pupils should be cause for concern, and alarm bells should be ringing.

    • richardcarlisle says:

      Excellent bullet proof plan… why not?

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I agree with your approach. Teachers need to come up with solutions and make proposals for guidelines that protect everyone: students, parents, teachers, and administrators before draconian strategies are inflicted on the teaching process from above. If this questionnaire is the beginning of a productive discussion, then I think it’s a good thing. If it is considered as the end of the process, then little progress will be made, IMHO.

    • Francis anthony says:

      Wotaworld ! and what next? BUT our children must be protected ! and the teachers of course !

  2. Paul Mann says:

    Dear Norman, it’s good to see you welcoming this, even if your first instinct was to disparage the questionnaire as ‘mind-numbing’. How else would you suggest they canvas the parents’ views? There have already been more than enough shouting competitions on internet forums, and in the media. And speaking of which, just because the school has not been feeding the press in the past few weeks does not mean that it has been paralysed or defensive.

    • Concerned parent says:

      Actually Paul it’s not hard to see how the school could more fully and adequately canvass parents’ and students’ views.

      One of the problems is that the school hasn’t listened to the views that have been put to them in the past – both when they have asked for them and when they haven’t – so there is now a huge issue of trust in the present management.

      You may feel the school has not been paralysed and defensive, but it has certainly looked like it is keeping its head down and hoping this will all blow over while there has been extremely defensive shouting in blogs and social media.

      None of this has reflected well on the institution or its defenders – especially as the defensive shouting has contained elements of blanket denial, apologia for abuse/abusers, demonisation of newspapers and bloggers who have revealed it, a privileging of the “suffering” of current students at an institution “under attack” over actual abuse victims and the perhaps unwitting creation of an atmosphere (on facebook and elsewhere) where students who disagree with your line are cowed from speaking out.

      Openness and transparency (with some genuine humility by the Chets management and less cack-handed spin-doctoring) are the only way forward, and the more this is resisted, the greater the clamour for reform.

      • Totally agree with the above statement. Pretty good summary. If they stopped saying ‘historic’ every time they mentioned abuse that would be good too. It’s starting to get like New Labour: New Chethams, nothing at all to do with the old one, unless it’s something to do with the proud history. Hopefully this questionnaire is anonymous and dealt with completely independently. Hopefully the children will be anonymously surveyed at some point too, seeing as parents are often bissfully unaware in abuse cases. That aside, the results of an anoymous pupil survey, dealt with totally independently would be extremely useful and interesting.

  3. Ian Pace says:

    I wonder if a lot of parents necessarily know the half of what the pupils might know, any more so than 30 years ago? To this day, some victims from back then have not yet been able to tell their parents about what happened.

  4. Ian Pace says:

    And if the school is not to be defensive, it should welcome a public inquiry which would consider events past and present at all such music institutions, not just at Chet’s. If things are so much better there now, as some claim, would an inquiry not be likely to commend this fact, possibly more so than at other institutions?

    • To Ian Pace : I have answered the questionnaire, and I don’t feel it will really give ISI much meaningful information. It is a standard independent school form, it is very cursory, the questions are very basic, not tailored to the current situation at Chets at all, and do not relate to the musical provision (of course there is a box to add comments).
      What concerns me about this inspection is that it is not clear what is being inspected. As I understand it, ISI’s remit only covers the academic side of the teaching, and the boarding provision, but it does NOT cover the instrumental teaching/experiences and this side of the school’s operation at all – but this is one aspect, I think, that REALLY needs examining and overhauling. I am not sure that a body exists that is capable of, or set up for doing this? One thing we can be sure of however – if the ISI inspection is satisfactory, Mrs Moreland will herald it as an endorsement of the way the school is run, both academically AND musically. I don’t know if the Manchester Children’s Services, who are supposed to be ‘visiting’ this week, will do anything different? They don’t appear to have contacted parents or students yet?

      • Michal Kaznowski says:

        Sadly, I must report that when teaching at Purcell, I complained in a letter to ISIS about the inadequacy of their inspection at the school – specifically the instrumental teaching department, which at the time I thought was quite dysfunctional. I didnt get a reply. Roll on more inspections!

        • Michal Kaznowski says:

          Aha, I remember exactly what bothered me. We were told that ISIS Inspectors could visit our room and sit in on our teaching. I asked the Head of Music what they were looking for and received the reply ‘good teaching”.

          I wrote to ISIS asking what they were looking for. No reply. So, an exam for the teachers with no known parameters.

          Forgive me for being a little provocative, I don’t think those of you reading this blog who haven’t taught at these schools can easily comprehend how inadequate the management system was.

  5. Michal Kaznowski says:

    I agree that what is needed is to introduce some openness to the teaching system – all lessons to be open to other students, regular visits by senior staff. What about the introduction of peer to peer review for developing lessons. Also, where are the teaching meetings, the regular review of students, not just one to one discussions about your own students? What about INSET to bring instrumental teachers from very diverse pedagogical backgrounds up to speed with modern teaching ideas about talented children’s psychological needs. In the past the well known offenders were left to their own devices by the management. Repeated alerts were ignored.

    This is bad management at work! I dont feel it is rocket science to make grooming much harder to practice and conceal. Just good management.

    The schools are behaving as if they have done everything possible – well, wouldn’t you if you had been found out? Actually, it was because they managed so poorly, everything possible did happen without their knowledge, in full view!

  6. PK Miller says:

    Jeff & Robert are on the right track. Our Episcopal Cathedral uses the Safe Church program wherein adults of EITHER sex are never alone with boy choristers; choir parents are present at rehearsals as observers. I first thought it going to bizarre extremes when our current Director of Music implemented it particularly for our Choir of Men & Boys. Yet it is, alas, so necessary to protect EVERYONE. Considering we had a former Dean defrocked for child abuse (past statute of limitations to prosecute) and a former Director in federal prison for making child pornography–thankfully NEITHER involving boy choristers or any Cathedral child, the Safe Church program is absolutely necessary.

  7. Concerned parent says:

    The ISI inspection is plainly inadequate – not just because of the generic nature of the questions, the fact that music provision is left out (when that is the reason the children are at Chets and is the most important and determining thing about children’s experience of the school) and the children themselves are not consulted – but also because no ISI inspection has picked up a problem in the past.

    Surely what has now come to light now discredits the whole ISI inspection regime and means reform is needed there too. (I have to say that my own submissions to past ISI inspections documenting pastoral care failures appear not to have been picked up or explored further by the ISI inspectors).

    In any case ISI is part of the ISA – the main trade, lobbying and PR organisation for independent schools – and there have been doubts expressed about the efficacy of their inspections across the private sector for this very reason.

    In terms of the school’s own separate questionnaires into music provision, I have not seen that past responses to this have produced any meaningful reform. In one of these questionnaires I argued strongly to the school that it is really pointless to ask parents what they think about the music provision, when they should be asking the children – and have structures in place so that the students’ views are constantly sought and fed into management policy-making. Needless to say this has yet to happen.

    • I did not know that ‘ISI is part of the ISA – the main trade, lobbying and PR organisation for independent schools’. My heart is sinking. I thought it too good to be true that an independent body was going in. It could all just be more carefully orchestrated image management then? Shame. My only hope is that because the spotlight is now on, a whitewash might be harder to effect. However, who’s watching to make sure that doesn’t happen?

  8. Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    Having read the latest comments by your contributors, including Mr. Kaznowski and ‘concerned parent’ I am worried that the title for this page : ‘Parents at troubled music school are consulted about making it safer’ might be misleading. It implies that parents are actually being consulted in a meaningful way about how to make the school ‘safer’ – when it looks as though this might not be the case at all. It implies some kind of meaningful dialogue between parents and either the inspectors or the school – but it does not look as if this is going to happen. I am very worried that people will read this heading and sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and think that at last this mess is going to be sorted out, when in fact it will just turn out to be a whitewash – but no one will know it is a whitewash.
    A meaningful enquiry or dialogue would involve Mrs Moreland setting aside several days, and kindly inviting all students and parents who have serious issues that need resolving – whether past or current – to come and talk them over with her, either in person or by phone (probably with an ISI inspector present?), with the aim of starting to find a way forward, both for the individuals involved, and the school. A meaningful enquiry from ISI would include interviewing all parents who have withdrawn, or considered withdrawing their children from the school, or all students who have considered leaving, because their experiences have been so bad – in order to try to establish where changes need to be made. If all the students at Chet’s are ‘fine’ then Mrs Moreland has nothing to fear, the exercise should not take much time at all, and it would be great for her image. If, on the other hand, there are some serious issues to be faced up to here – which of course there are – it would be a dereliction of her duty to continue to ignore them. There is still a chance she could save the situation if she responded now; but I’m afraid she will not. I feel the title to this page should perhaps read: ‘Parents at troubled music school let down by inadequate inspection.’..not very punchy, I admit. Perhaps you/someone could come up with something much better?

  9. Concerned parent says:

    To Parent: What a fantastic idea! You are right that that’s what a real leader would do – think of someone in business like Richard Branson or Sir John Harvey-Jones. I also think the point you make about parents who’ve either withdrawn their children or whose children were told to leave is very important. They are crucial witnesses about what can go wrong at Chets and how it is handled* – and of course they are never covered by any inspections.
    * A child who for whatever reason finds that it cannot hack it at Chets often leaves feeling a shameful failure and with hugely damaged confidence and self-esteem. I am not aware that the school’s duty of care extends to making sure that children who do have to leave are helped to do so in the most positive way possible, or that the school takes any responsibility at all for having admitted these children in the first place and presided over a miserable education which ended badly.

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