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Sex in music schools: Menuhin calls police, Chethams placates parents

Channel 4 News’s report into sexual abuses in the five main UK music schools has drawn two prompt responses. The Yehudi Menuhin School called in Surrey Police to investigate allegations made chiefly against its founding head, Marcel Gazelle.
Chethams, soon after, assured its parents that it was ‘not the main focus of the report’ (see letter below). The Guardian, however, reports tonight that 39 teachers in Manchester, from Chethams and RNCM, are under police investigation. The cloud darkens.
chethams 3
Dear all 
 
Earlier this evening, Channel 4 News broadcast a report about abuse at specialist music schools. While Chetham’s was not the main focus of the report, it was nonetheless distressing, and may have re-awakened concerns about your children’s safety. We would like to reassure you that we take these issues extremely seriously, and our staff are on hand to offer support and guidance. We gave the producers a statement (see below), which we asked to be read out in full during the programme, however instead they took snippets of statements from all of the specialist music schools. We are happy to discuss this further if you have any queries, or would like to talk about the programme. 
 
Claire Moreland Head

 

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Comments

  1. See below statement: Is it available to read anywhere, please, Norman? These are troubling times.

    • It was not attached to the letter I was sent.

      • John Millner says:

        The missing statement:

        Chetham’s School of Music – Statement 02/05/2013

        Chetham’s is the largest specialist music school in the UK, attracting students from all over the world as well as across the UK. The only criterion for entry is musical ability, and not ability to pay.

        The trial of Michael Brewer and subsequent police investigations have raised serious and important issues.

        Our responsibility, as a school, is to ensure that our young musicians have the facilities and resources that they need and can thrive in a safe and supportive environment. As part of meeting this need, last year we opened a brand new school building, with award-winning practice, performance and academic facilities.

        In terms of the ethos and environment of Chetham’s, whilst the recent inspection reports by Manchester Children’s Services and the ISI found that our pupils felt safe and happy, they identified a number of weaknesses in our safeguarding processes and protocols. We are addressing these as a matter of priority. Many of the changes have already been implemented and we are working with the Department for Education and Manchester Children’s Services on a detailed Action Plan due to be submitted by 10th May for ratification and approval.

        We are extremely proud of our School which we believe makes an invaluable contribution to the community and the musical life of the nation. However, the safety and happiness of our pupils is, and always must be, our top priority.

        • thanks.

        • John Millner says:

          (With apologies for cross-posting.) Claire Moreland’s statement includes this:

          “Our responsibility, as a school, is to ensure that our young musicians have the facilities and resources that they need and can thrive in a safe and supportive environment. As part of meeting this need, last year we opened a brand new school building, with award-winning practice, performance and academic facilities.”

          Why does the head think this is appropriate? Are we supposed to set new buildings and architectural prizes against child abuse? What kind of idiotic calculus is that? For goodness sake Chetham’s management, just stop the pathetic spinning and acknowledge that profound change is needed. And here’s an idea: instead of complaining that your press statement wasn’t read out in its entirety or going on about your building projects why not express a little sympathy for the men and women whose lives have been damaged and who have shown extraordinary bravery in speaking openly about their experiences? Oh, I forgot, *you* are the victim. Sorry!

        • They did them a favour not publishing it in its entirety.

  2. Michal Kaznowski says:

    For me, the gap between what a semi publicly funded school thinks is OK as a response to terrible and continuing revelations about the quality of its musical education, and what a normal state school would be obliged to to under law, is something that should be publicly noted and condemned.

    In the state sector, how Chethams is responding to the ongoing problems would be called a failing school.

    Could we please have pressure on these schools to be transparently good at their management – especially in the instrumental teaching area where the abuse has been so endemic? Just apply the well known methods as used in state schools. Meetings, INSET, peer to peer review etc. How is it that we require our judges and surgeons to comply, but not our Specialist Music Schools? Who has the powers to fix this? The DFE.

    • Surely now the sexual, emotional and psychological abuse will be investigated. I hope it gives victims the courage to come forward even if they feel they are up against some dark forces.

  3. Purcell Parent says:

    As Ian Pace said on this blog several weeks ago, “The arms- length policy of state funding needs to be rethought”. Surely, it is time for the DFE to become actively involved with the oversight and governance of music schools and impose a clear regulatory framework which should be enforced by Ofsted, rather than the ISI. I also feel that it is essential that music school governors are appointed for their professional and educational expertise rather than (as sometimes happens at present), their membership of the club of the great and the good and that parents are well represented on the governing body.
    Music schools should be dragged into the 21st century and required to conform to the rules and expectations which apply to other schools; musical education cannot be an exception.
    Inevitably, legal constraints probably mean that we didn’t hear the full story last night. There were frequent references to “all five music schools”, but only Chethams and Menuhin were named and discussed. It would be good to know exactly what has been going on elsewhere and whether there is any current cause for concern at other music schools.

    • angry parent says:

      well said!
      As also a parent of Purcell School, you will be aware of the cover up of two years ago, of the sexual verbal abuse by Headmaster Peter Crook, and the unacceptable cover up since by the governors who ,due to parental and staff pressure ,were forced, in their opinion, most reluctantly, to eventually remove him from working at the school.

      The fact that these Governors (the last Chairman Roy Cervenka,had been a governor of over 25 years!) are not professional musicans, are clearly ‘do gooders’ and act as Governors for the sake of their inflated egos and status, who do NOT understand, and are long out of touch with young people and professional teachers, simply should have resigned years ago.

      It is still the candid opinion of many parents and teachers, that when Mr Crook was allowed back to work by the Governors grave error in reinstating him to continue as Head immediately following two investigations over his sexual conduct and obsession with some pupils by Hertfordhire Social services and Police, they themselves as a Governing body a) should never have continued to allow him to work at the school, and be near the children he verbally abused and b) should have resigned themselves in shame for the damage they have done to this once popular music school.

      Its about high time we parents at the Purcell school ,stood firm and called for the resignation of the Governors reather than be scared of our childrens places being threatened if we speak out, as has been the case with 6 of my friends who also had children here when Mr Crook was Headmaster.

  4. While I attended Chethams in very recent years only two years ago, I was never indecently assaulted or in any way pit at risks by teachers. I feel so sorry for the acting head as all this churned up past about Mike Brewer happened whilst another head was in position and other staff members. It is a different school now. The press are being unfair and as usual dishonest. Mike brewer has not been there since the 70s yet when the press report the news they infer that he was there recently. I do not understand why the focus has Bern on a school that has had nothing to do with him for years when the national youth choir of great Britain have escaped pretty much scrape free, when he has been the head conductor and leader of a children’s choir. Chethams do wonderful things for children in music and I loved my time there.

    • Hi Adam,
      whilst it is fantastic you enjoyed your time at Chets, as did many in the past, there will be many rightly wanting systems in place that will prevent this abuse from ever happening again, and it is absolutely the responsibility of the current management to now ensure this. In terms of ‘recent’ history, Michael Brewer left Chetham’s in the mid-nineties (the circumstances of his departure have been reported) and there have been two other staff named in well reported cases that were teaching both at the RNCM and Chetham’s up until recently. We have still yet to hear the outcome of the various investigations into other teachers. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain have put up statements regarding Michael Brewer on their website.

      It is painful to read lurid press reports into something that is part of one’s life, especially as there certainly have been inaccuracies and extrapolation in some press and online coverage, however it must be remembered that there are victims of abuse in all this that need to be supported and heard, and they must come ahead of any institutional reputation or personal, and natural, feelings of pride and protection toward a former school.

    • Karl Keightley says:

      Adam,
      A lot of Chetham’s pupils including myself have had a decent time at Chetham’s, but the abuse is not visible by it’s nature, in which a significant minority suffered at the hands of these teachers, and it still goes on. I was there for five years while Brewer was Director of Music, and not for a moment did I suspect he was an abuser, nor did I suspect others then who are implicated now . The current head seems to drag her feet on clean up measures in case she has more headaches to deal with. And now we hear that there is more to hear about as recently as 2010. I suggest the current head takes more paracetamol and gets on with the cleanup before she has it imposed on her by DfE, or worse (better) by law. The weak link is that the school keeps parental involvement as far away as possible, and any questioning by parents is given the stiffest brushoff possible. Their treatment has always been like that, it needs to change NOW. I hope Chetham’s changes ar survives and thrives and wish all current and future students success and happiness. We shall miss Frances, it has been a cruel tragedy, not to be repeated for anyone anywhere please. Take HEED Chethams. Karl

  5. In response to Adam and the rest of the thread – I also attended Chetham’s a couple of years ago. And whilst I wasn’t sexually abused, the standard of care and teaching from those in charge at the school left much to be desired. In the end I and several others had to leave the school as nothing was sorted out to stop the bullying against us.

    My focus of the bullying started when I intervened in the school cafeteria in an incident with the same gang who ended up coming after me. We had one girl in our year who suffered with autism, and on this particular afternoon the gang were smashing cups and plates infront of the girl (whilst school staff stood around not caring or knowing what to do) and they managed to induce the girl into a fit. Having witnessed this I confronted the gang and got them to stop, but after then I was the ‘new target’, and so followed months of not being able to walk down corridors on my own, threats, and physical violence.

    I was bullied and beaten up during my time at Chet’s, and once I was even punched in the face right in front of our music technology teacher, Jeremy Pike, who asked me at the time if I was ‘ok?’, but never reprimanded the gang leader who hit me, and later denied all knowledge of seeing it happen.
    A few months later, as the bullying and abuse escalated against me I managed to set up a meeting with principal, Jeremy Pike who witnessed the attack, head of boys house Jon Runswick Cole and my parents to sort a solution out.
    During the meeting I bought the incident up with the principal but Pike then denied all knowledge of witnessing it. Jennifer Pikes father, Dr Pike really takes no interest in teaching lessons, but rather focuses his time on managing Jennifer’s career, had asked me explicitly not to mention the incident in the meeting prior to us going in.

    Jon Runswick Cole also defended the gang and their leader, though I later found out just a few months earlier Runswick Cole been called into the principals office by parents of 3 other boys (one who had his nose broken, and another who was pushed down the stairs) and questioned about the gang.

    No action was ever taken against the leader of the gang as it later emerged the head, Clare Moreland, was in cahoots with the thugs mother who ran a local music organisation and sent the school many pupils from poor backgrounds securing government grant money.

    In my situation I was asked by the principal to ‘just leave, and we’ll waive the leaving fee if you stop causing us logistical headaches’.
    I had requested to change groups as the gang was in several of my classes, but rather than implement this simple request, it was better to not ‘rock the boat’ with the music society mother and keep their deal going.

    At least during my time there, the only thing that seemed important was school image during the offsted inspection, and the promotion of the ‘new building’. The actual running of the school was an after thought, so I’m glad the current staff are under scrutiny. Hopefully some heads in the upper echelons will roll, and shake up a desperately failing system. Generally the teachers who teach at the school are good, honest people, but like with most private music institutions, the levels of hierarchy that exist allow corruption, selfish leadership, and does not put the pupil first.

    • John Millner says:

      This is a disturbing story and you are brave to tell it. Unfortunately, we have heard very many similar stories of teachers failing to act against bullies at Chetham’s. The senior management, Claire Moreland, Carolyn Rhind and Stephen Threlfall, simply do not understand bullying and don’t seem to think it is part of their job to deal with it effectively and consistently. Anti-bullying policies are one thing (and Chetham’s has some very good policies) but anti-bullying *action* is what really matters if you are the victim of bullying. This comes from the culture of a school, its values and principles; and that follows importantly from the leadership of a school. Where the leaders of a school don’t understand that children need safety if they are to thrive, lives will be damaged and the pleasure of making music lost.

    • Ex Chet's says:

      I don’t know if you got one of these, Fran, but it rings about as hollow as the communications to parents doesn’t it, especially to those whose experience was less than positive?
      “Dear Pupil (pupil’s name was put here)

      I wanted to get in touch with you once more with an update on the current situation at Chetham’s, and to let you know how we plan to move forward. The alumni community is extremely important to me and to everyone here at Chets.

      You are likely to have seen media coverage relating to the two recent inspections carried out by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and Manchester Children’s Services (MCS). We have committed to a thorough review of both current processes and historic events, and I assure you that where the ISI and MCS have recommended amendments to our policies or procedures we have either already implemented them or are in the process of doing so as a matter of priority. We will be submitting a detailed Action Plan to the Department for Education by the 10th May, which is to be implemented by mid-July. The Chairman of Governors, Chairman of Feoffees and I are working closely with the Department for Education and they have expressed their support for Chetham’s through this process. We are working together with them to give 100% assurance that we adhere to the very best practice in child safeguarding.

      At the start of summer term I held a meeting for all current parents who were dropping off their children after the Easter holidays, and also an assembly and a staff meeting, to ensure that parents, staff and students alike remain informed and know that we are here to listen if they have any concerns whatsoever. We can be very proud of our students and the way they have handled what has, very unfortunately, been a difficult time for them. At its heart, Chetham’s is about our students, both present and past, and they will always remain my first priority.

      I strongly believe that, as an organisation with the needs of children at its core, there can be no limit to how much learning, changing and improving we are all prepared to do. I am committed to ensuring that the students who live, learn, and make music at Chets each day remain our primary concern, and will do everything possible to minimise any disruption to them. It is my hope that our current students will continue to channel all their energies into the broad range of opportunities available to them here, both for musical development and for friendships which can last a lifetime.

      As a former student you know that Chetham’s is much more than just a school, it is a home, and the Chetham’s community is a family. Thank you for being a part of that family, for your support for the School and, most importantly, your support for our students.

      Best wishes,

      Claire”

      Claire Moreland, Head
      © Copyright of Chetham’s School of Music. Registered Charity No. 526702″

      Yet more ‘pathetic spin’ as John rightly puts it. Many have found it pretty insulting. In fact some ex-pupils have found it quite intimidating: thanking us for ‘support’ that we may or may not have given (but apparently should), playing the ‘family’ card, Mafia style! Funny, I and many have never been given the impression we were valued parts of the family until now! In fact the school doesn’t have contact details or any record of most of us, let alone what became of us during or after our stay at the school. Ex-pupils and other concerned parties including, hopefully, regulatory bodies are never going to get ’100% assurance that the school adheres to the very best practice in child safeguarding’ when the current personnel, who are implicated in many on-going and massive failings, selfishly and arrogantly cling on to their positions. This would include the apparent author of the letter (although someone did suggest it could have been generated by spin software), other senior staff and certain governors, who are apparently ‘working closely with the Department for Education’. The more of this stuff they churn out, the more they prove that they are rotten to the core. What kind of family compulsively and shamelessly papers over the cracks to this extent when it’s children have been abused and neglected in the ways and on the scale that is continually being revealed? One that needs intervention from Social Services.

      You may not realise this but we are adults now. Don’t patronise us, don’t blag us, don’t try to intimidate us and don’t think you can entice us with sentimental talk of being one big happy family. That might work on visitors, prospective parents and outsiders, but we’ve been on the inside don’t forget. Don’t insult our intelligence by suggesting, in the last paragraph, that to support the students or ‘the school’ we need to save your sorry bacon. The reverse is true. You are not fit to care for those children and you are running the place into the ground.

    • Really sorry and angry to hear that you were so badly let down and cruelly treated Fran. Many other alumni reading this blog feel the same. You say it was only a couple of years ago. You are not the first to tell disturbing stories of recent experiences at Chetham’s, which is one reason why alumni are so concerned about the school and its pupils now. I hope you will consider telling the police about what happened to you if you have not done so already. I believe they are interested in this sort of information, not just sexual abuse.

    • John Millner says:

      I just wanted to echo what Julie has said. The police are looking at cases of bullying very seriously and I’m sure they would treat you with great sympathy. If you wanted to talk more directly with current Chets people, many of whom have had experiences similar to yours, do email chethamsparentsgroup@gmail.com and I’ll put you in touch.

  6. Previously on Slippeddisc parents reported that Mrs Moreland had lead them to believe that the number of teachers investigated was 4, now the number investigated is published as 39: – the same number as Buchan’s steps and Articles of Faith in the Book of Common prayer and approximately ten times as many.

    To be fair to the Menhuin school , this news is old news: bad news but nothing recent.

    There are issues when by the nature of a subject there is going to be one-to-one contact pupil to parent, and where talented students get extra attention (sport does not fair much better), but what is one to do. Stop one to one lessons? That would be stupid as it would punish the many for the sake of the few and overall have a negative effect on the education of children.

    Ban touching altogether? That would emotionally be as damaging as the status quo.

    The best option is to publish guidelines over what areas are safe touchzones (hands, arms, shoulders) and where are the no go areas (breasts and anything below the waist – the front torso all together). Teach teachers alternative ways of demonstrating their craft without grabbing hold of pupils, and it is possible because I do it. Now I place hands on shoulders to stop them from raising, and support wrists and hands, but far more can be done through “copy me” than by grabbing”.

    To deny pupils all touch comes across as cold, and can present dangers (would you not hold the hand of a five year old to stop them running into the road?) Sensible and practical protocols need to be established to ensure that the majority of professional teachers who do gauge things right are not accused of mispractice when they are getting things right.

    This issue is confusing both teachers and pupils and is damaging both. Primary Teachers who play in water trays with pupils are finding the boundaries harder to define because they do not want to end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit even though they would not dream of molesting a child. On the one hand it is vital the teacher carries on doing this to actively engage with the pupil, on the other, that it is easier for the same teacher to withdraw gracefully.

    This scandal at music schools is having an impact far further than in specialist music schools, it impacting mainstream education. Mrs Moreland’s complacencies is injuring children in schools other than her own.

  7. Just one quick comment
    The Menuhin school went to the police in conjunction with the students involved. This was not a response to the Ch 4 programme and happened before the programme came out. Well done YMS for doing the right thing!

  8. Yes, they are to be commended for their swift action…(not)

    • One can only deal with the people there now. I reported abuse and they immediately informed the police. The fact that former heads did not investigate or report is another matter to be further looked at!

      • I know that this is indeed the case with respect to the head of YMS, and this should definitely be commended. Bear in mind that he has only been in position since 2010, and so cannot be held directly responsible for whether events were reported before then.

    • Sorry JME. I take it back.

  9. Chets Alumna says:

    As an Alumna of the school who was there during the Mike Brewer years I have been shocked by the recent revalations. I was there at the same time as Ian Pace and the others and I certainly do not recall this kind of behaviour being “rife”. As the daughter of a Policeman I would have been happy to report any concerns if I had them.

    But I am not doubting that this could happen. So I welcome the inquiry. it will be nice to get some solid facts and not just suposition and hearsay. I am still in touch with a number of other girls who were at the school at the same time and I can honestly say 1 person had one of the accused teachers brush a breast during a lesson (although she did admit it could easily have been accidental) and one had a bad experience at RNCM.

    I have spent the last few weeks wondering if i even went to the same school or was I just oblivious? It was definitely a place full of tensions but i put this down to hormones and the pressure to be the best. For me it was never an issue – I made the decision not to go to Music College and I have not regretted my decision. I still play music but for personal pleasure rather than any financial recompense.

    But i do look forward to the day that i can open the newspaper without the fear of reading something new. Having my dad ask me if i had been involved was bad enough!

    Alumna.

    • Jacob Lund says:

      Thanks for your view that you do not recall ‘this kind of behaviour being “rife”‘, but is your own perception even relevant here? I was there in the Brewer years too, and I don’t know whether it was ‘rife’ or not, but the Police seem to think that it was. Surely that is what matters?

    • Alumna, I know of various other people there at the same time as either of us whose memories are similar. And others who were aware of lots of what was going on. And some (like me) who knew of quite a number of sexual affairs between teachers and sixth-form girls, but didn’t think at the time there was anything wrong with this (because it was common). I was shocked to hear the allegations about Ling in the early 1990s, and perhaps even more shocked to see how the school seemed to do nothing about these afterwards.

      It was very possible to be there and not know about things, depending upon the circles in which one moved.

  10. Alumna says:

    Ian,

    this is the very point I was trying to make. People (current students, past students, parents etc) should not assume that everything is OK just because they are not aware of these things happening. The people who commit this kind of act are, by their very nature, devious and exprienced at concealing their actions.

    Thanks A

  11. Future parent of Chetham's says:

    I would welcome the advice and opinions of Ian Pace, Martin Roscoe, Norman Lebrecht and would be interested to know what they would do in my position and for any others who care to comment on my situation. This is my position:- I have a 12 year old son who has, after three years of advice sessions and auditions and learning new instruments etc been offered a place at his dream school for September. You can imagine his excitement upon reading the letter of acceptance. The bottle of champagne being cracked open as his dream was to become a reality. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case as the day the letter arrived I had the radio on and heard the dreadful news of Frances Andrade and the Brewer case. We were upset and horrified. But our son had just been offered a place at this prestigious school that would change his life! I was still excited and made a phone call to tell the news to relatives and friends. However, after two phone calls I didn’t bother as the reaction I received was basically that I would be sending my son away to be sexually abused. We haven’t told anybody his wonderful news since!
    I am at a total loss as to what to do. My son knows absolutely nothing of what has and is going on. The reason being that he is a reluctant boarder. Who in their right mind would want to go to a school when all you read and see is about the abuse. In his eyes he would be terrified – he is already feeling very scared about boarding but desperate to go because of the music. Where he goes to school at the moment he is a misfit because he is only interested in music and it is quite a rough comprehensive – there is no music for him there apart from the slot in the curriculum and we have to travel 5 hours every Sunday in order for him to play. To be given an opportunity to go to Chetham’s really was a dream come true. All I have to go on to make up my mind to send him is this site and the press reports, which to be honest are all pretty damning and it is making me not want to send him and I am very scared. However, when we have been to the school we feel in a different world and it has so much to offer. Does anybody have any evidence that abuse has gone on recently? This is what I need to know desperately as I am going out of my mind with worry. Am I sending my child into the lion’s den or into a brilliant, amazing and fantastic school where he is going to be nurtured and have the best education possible? I ask you please Ian Pace and Martin Roscoe, Norman Lebrecht if this were your 12 year old son today what would you do? Thank you very much in anticipation.

    • John Millner says:

      Can I suggest that you email chethamsparentsgroup@gmail.com and I will put you in touch with current parents. We can’t advise you what to do for your son, but we can talk to you about our experiences — positive and negative — and try to answer your questions.

    • I have a child at another specialist music school (Purcell). He joined at a similar age to your son, just before the previous head resigned under a cloud. Had we been in your shoes (ie. had the timing been different) we may well have been put off. As it was, the issues arose after he joined, and he loved the school so much that there was no question of pulling him out. Like your boy, he was a ‘fish out of water’ at his previous school. It’s been a joy to us to see him grow in confidence, pursuing his love for music and forming close friendships with other children who share his interests. Of course every school is different, as is every child. Other parents at Chets will be your best source of help. In no way would I minimise the terrible abuse that children have suffered at specialist music schools and colleges, and in other contexts too, and I fully support the action being taken now to bring it out into the open, call people to account and change things for the better. But there are positive experiences out there too, which are hard to see at the present. Good luck with your decision.

      • Future parent of Chetham's says:

        Parent, thank you for your comment. It is very helpful to me and like a tonic in this current storm. I am feeling more positive about sending him there now, especially knowing that other children who don’t quite ‘fit’ into mainstream school manage to find a place where they feel they finally belong – which is what we are hoping. I wish your son luck in his studies. I agree that it is good that the awful abuse issues are finally out in the open and being dealt with and in no way wish to undermine what anyone has been through. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

        • Future Parent, I’ve been through that excitement few years ago and it should be all fine if your son is strong enough to deal with a lot of hurdles. If he wants to raise above the base standards or have big dreams, you might be disappointed!

    • Future parent, I’m really sorry that you are faced with such difficult decisions. Any time when these stories emerged would inevitably have a major knock-on effect on current and near-future pupils, parents and teachers – that is perhaps unavoidable. Also, this story is unlikely to go away for a long time yet, bearing in mind there are a colossal 39 teachers under investigation (not all of them necessarily from a long time ago), and at least one offence allegedly took place as recently as 2010 (as reported by Helen Pidd in yesterday’s Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/may/07/manchester-music-schools-teachers-investigation ), and there are likely to be further revelations, arrests and trials, which might continue over several years.

      All things told, I cannot have complete confidence that specialist music schools are wholly safe places until they honestly and wholeheartedly acknowledge the gravity of what is alleged to have gone on and put their weight behind a movement for inquiry and reform to ensure the interests of children (and, in many ways, the human interests of staff as well, who also need to be protected) come first, not being sacrificed in the name of some abstract musical ideals or institutional reputation.

      In terms of Chetham’s specifically, I do believe (and have argued elsewhere) that new management, with no connections to earlier eras, is needed in order for the school to redeem itself and show it is serious about change. Whether this will come about in the near future I am not sure. All the evidence I have heard suggests that whilst the danger of sexual abuse appears to be considerably less than it was in earlier decades (which is not to say that danger is necessarily non-existent), there are still claims of major problems concerning child welfare, pastoral care, psychological and emotional abuse such that the potential dangers cannot be discounted.

      A lot depends on how soon you need to make your decision. If you are able to wait perhaps for a couple of months, perhaps things might be clearer then. I would echo what John Millner says about contacting parents’ groups, and let that inform your decision. Some current parents will give a very positive view of the school, others a more negative one. I would try and talk to as many parents as possible and gauge things for yourself on that basis. But do bear in mind – as witnessed on this very blog – that emotions are running very high, there are a lot of personal traumas affecting current pupils because of what is being revealed, and there are many very strident opinions. I do not believe the school is handling its current predicament well, nor acting in the best interests of the current pupils by attempting to present their interests as synonymous with those of the current management. If that situation does not change, then I am not sure that sending your child there is necessarily a good idea. However, it appears that Chetham’s has felt unfairly singled out, a concern with which I have some sympathy; this may change now that recent reports imply very strongly that the problems of Chet’s were common to other specialist music schools as well.

      One possibility might be to ask to defer a place for a year or so? 12 can be quite a young age to board for some (I boarded from age 10, and that was not a problem, but that may be an exceptional case). Is the option of weekly boarding still available? I would also recommend taking your concerns to the appropriate people at the school (perhaps together with other future parents if you are in touch with them) and see if you feel reassured that you get an honest answer.

      I’m sorry if I can’t give a simple yes or no answer, but hopefully some of the above might help you with your decision.

      • Future parent of Chetham's says:

        Dear Ian Pace, thank you for taking the time to think about my predicament and give your thoughts for which I am very grateful. I have carefully read everything and am constantly monitoring the situation, and we do not have to make a full commitment (I don’t think) for a few more weeks. I feel happier knowing that I can get in touch now with parents who already have children at the school which I wasn’t aware of before and will be doing that and hopefully get more of an idea, both positive and negative, of what it is like to go there.
        My son is young to board but he will be 13 by September and they have told him initially that he can be a weekly boarder and we are/were re-locating as a family so his journey by train will be only about an hour and a quarter. I think I will just have to see what happens in the next few weeks and then make a firm decision. I say he is a reluctant boarder but I think he got a bit ‘freaked out’ when he went away for the first time with NCO and stayed in a completely stripped out dorm and said it was like being in prison. Once I explained that the children who stay there normally had packed away all their belongings for summer and would put them back out once they returned he seemed a bit more cheered, but it is fear of the unknown isn’t it? I still have the decision of whether to tell him about the abuse cases before he goes (and put the fear of God in him) or wait until he goes and is settled within the school and let him find out via the school. Or am I being incredibly naive? This will probably be decided for me by the time it is August anyway so I have a few weeks to decide. Thank you for your thoughts.

        • I would just say that definitely you should tell him honestly about the stories of abuse before he goes, because it is 100% sure that he will hear about them when he gets there, and all sorts of partial truths, rumours, etc., will likely be flying about. It won’t be easy, I know, but it would be best to be honest in advance.

          • Future parent of Chetham's says:

            Yes I’m sure you are right. I will wait until after the new pupils’ day in June though so he is hopefully feeling a little more settled about going. Thanks.

    • Parent/Musician/Teacher says:

      Dear Future Parent
      I attended a specialist music school and loved being there. However, I would defiantly not send my children to one. I could explain why but I feel other people will put similar views on this blog so I want to take my time to say the following.
      I teach music in large comprehensive schools and have taught several very able musicians who would be of the standard required to attend specialist schools. Ensemble wise the situation has not been ideal for them. However, they have had plenty of performance opportunities and have done very well academically. I have also taught many boys (musically gifted and non musicians) who seem like ‘fish out of water” in year 7. I deliberately write year 7 as so many times it is these boys who are happy, popular, highly achieving young men by year 10.
      My advice would be to continue at his present school until year 12 unless he is desperately unhappy. A specialist environment closes more doors than it opens. This is without even taking the boarding situation in to account. He could specialise in music at sixth form age or better still university or music college. He would then be making the decision that music at further education level is what he wants to do instead of just taking that path because it is the next step so to speak. If the whole idea of staying at his current school is just not an option have you considered applying for music scholorships at non-specialist schools with vibrant music departments and great music teaching. This would give him plenty of performing and ensemble opportunities during the school day and extra curricular timetable. Yes, the standard would not be as high (although it is very high at some of them) but it is all about a balanced excellent education. NCO, a good instrumental teacher and lots of singing would also be preparing him for further musical study.

      I write the above with no reference to the sexual absuse my friends suffered at the specialist music school we attended. Strangely, it almost feels like an entirely seperate issue. I feel that the poor pastoral care at these specialist schools is only one of many, many reasons not to send a child to a specialist school before year 12 if at all.

  12. SMartin says:

    @Future parent of Chetham’s
    I can completely understand your concerns and would feel the same if it was us in that position. You and your son (and your family) should feel very proud of his achievements and for successfully gaining a place at Chethams. Despite what is going on, the school remains an excellent place for young and talented musicians, where they are nurtured and supported. We have a child there for the last 4 years, and they came from a school where they were a misfit too, bullied to an extent where their self-esteem was shattered, so I completely understand how important it is to find somewhere where you can be yourself. Chethams has been a refuge where my child has flourished in all ways. Like anywhere else, there have been occasional problems, but in no way have we ever felt even a little concern about their safety and well-being. We are very protective parents and would have known immediately if there was any cause for concern at all. I am sure, like anywhere else, not everyone is happy with the school. But, in our personal experience, any instances of bullying or inter-personal conflicts have been swiftly and efficiently dealt with. I would recommend that you let you child take up this excellent opportunity. Go to the New Students’ Day, talk to some of the students and ask questions. If you’d like to speak to anyone, I am happy to pass on my email address to you. I just thought that I’d put an alternative view forward to counter some of the views on this forum. Hope it helps.

  13. Future parent of Chetham's says:

    Thank you John Millner and SMartin whose comments I have found most helpful. When you are handing over your child to the care of others to which you will have absolutely no control over it is scary at the best of times, but I think I was reaching breaking point knowing that I was about to do that when all I kept reading and hearing about were more and more abuse stories. It has re-assured me to know that your child is flourishing at Chetham’s. I know it’s not going to be perfect for my son and there will be problems along the way, but he certainly isn’t happy being a ‘fish out of water’ where he is now. I’ve been so confused with everything that has been going on it has been hard to put it all into perspective as to what the school is actually like now. I will contact the email address at Chethams to get a few more points of view from parents, particularly with regard to how much it is affecting the pupils there (especially this age group – 12) . Should I tell my son all that has been going on before he goes or let wait until September and see how the land lies then? I appreciate your help. Thank you.

    • John Millner says:

      Not at all, it must be horrid to read these stories and I hope we can help. It is important to remember that there are a great many wonderful, passionate, dedicated teachers at Chetham’s. Those of us raising concerns primarily want to see change in the management and reforms to the structure of governance of Chet’s, most of all so the students and teachers there can get on with the business of nurturing the young people in their care.

      As for whether to tell your son about the issues, it is impossible to advise since it depends inter alia on your son’s likely reaction. We have been talking throughout to our child, but as the issues are constantly discussed by the students at school we had no choice.

  14. Concerned Parent says:

    @Future Parent A very tough call and you are right to be wary. Although I think there is extremely little chance of sexual abuse, I do not share SMartin’s confidence in Chets’ ability to nurture children. Of course individuals differ, and for a long time I thought my and my child’s bad experiences were due to our peculiar natures (that’s certainly what the school told us) but from speaking to other parents, students and GMP, I see sadly that our experiences were not exceptional but the result of systematic failings by staff at the school, particularly in terms of management, pastoral care and musical education. Very much depends on what instrument your son will be studying – the brass department is by far the happiest. Boarding is tough, particularly because it means you are not seeing your son every day and able to find out and intervene as soon as things go wrong (which they will). Day pupils fare better than boarders generally, and the older you are, the more able you are to stand up to bullying and cope with pastoral neglect. Sorry to sound so negative, but my child boarded at Chets from a very young age (with great insistence on their part and for the same kinds of reasons as you set out) and in retrospect the thing to have done would have been to move into the orbit of London and thus reach of one of the excellent conservatoire Junior Departments there and a school where my child would not have stood out as a weirdo (hard to find, I know, but they do exist in both the state and private sectors). Of course the latter depends on being able to move at will – which many families aren’t. So it may be a choice between a rock and a hard place.
    Finally, you should remember that very many successful musicians do not attend specialist music schools – a violin professor told me once that in his experience the ones who haven’t been to SMSs generally retain a joy and creativity in their playing lacking in SMS students and consequently progress better.

    • Future parent of Chetham's says:

      Dear Concerned Parent, thank you for your comments and I am sorry to hear about your child’s experiences at Chetham’s. Do you mind me asking what is the pastoral neglect that I keep hearing about as my son is not very good at looking after himself and cannot organise himself at all.
      Regarding the moving, I agree it would be great to have access to the courses in London, but not a consideration as have 2 older children to consider. We are actually moving so that said son can be a weekly boarder and get the train (1 1/4 hrs) instead of 3.
      I am very glad you mentioned about the brass department as that broadly covers where he will be. The staff I have met from that department so far have been really great and very encouraging so your comment has cheered me a little amongst all the negatives.

  15. Ex St Mary's student says:

    I boarded from aged 13, and was very keen to do so. Wish i hadn’t. I’d never send my own kids to board at a SMS until they were much older, especially if they’d be a ‘reluctant boarder’. Is there any way at all you could consider a move and keeping your child with you, studying there as a day student?

    • Future parent of Chetham's says:

      Dear Ex St Mary’s student, thank you for your comment. Do you mind me asking why you didn’t like the boarding. There are 2 reasons my son is a ‘reluctant boarder’. The first is that he went on away with the National Children’s Orchestra (first time away from home not knowing anyone at all). While he really enjoyed the course he didn’t like the boarding, and when we got to the bottom of it, it was because the room was totally bare and he thought it was like being in prison! So he thinks boarding will be like this – I did explain that the children who normally live in the room in term time pack everything away and bring it all back again and put posters on the walls etc to make it look nice. Secondly, I think he has been onto a pretty cushy number at home so maybe he is worried it won’t be so cushy (which it won’t!) at Chetham’s. He is the baby in the family and has been a bit spoilt to be honest. As he is a ‘square peg’ trying to fit into mainstream I have done too much for him, especially with all the pressures of being a musician I have ended up almost being his personal assistant! I think he may be worried that it will be hard having to fend for himself in many situations (which in his case won’t necessarily be a bad thing, although very tough at first). Re: moving – we are actually moving so that he can weekly board and get the train (1 1/4 hours) initially, but also have 2 older children to consider who will be starting college. Do you think he will find it all a bit much?

      • Dear Future Parent,
        My child had a similar cushy number at home but thrives boarding at Chet’s. The kids do have to learn to be organised and self-reliant. Boarding is, by it’s very nature, harder than being a day pupil and inevitably requires periods of adjustment. However, unlike many boarding schools, Chet’s is totally flexible with regards to when kids do or don’t board and children can contact their parents whenever they like. My child is extremely happy at the school and emotionally well adjusted. There have been the occasional pastoral problems that you would get in any boarding school, but I can not accept that there are systemic failings. It would be helpful if parents who have had bad experiences could be more specific. Have they – or are they, removing their children from the school?
        When we have had pastoral concerns, we have had good dialogue with the school. Perhaps things don’t get resolved as quickly as we may wish, but then we are only seeing one side of any problem. With regard to musical education, we believe it to be outstanding at Chet’s and don’t think there is another establishment in the world where our child could get such an all-rounded musical education in a supportive environment. And our child is not in the brass department!
        Will your son be doing a trial board? If so, he will get to experience the school and more importantly talk to current pupils. I think you’ll find that the vast, vast majority are happy, love the school and are thriving. I have spoken to ex-Chet’s pupils who attended the school 15+ years ago and it sounds like it was an utterly different place.
        I can totally understand your predicament but hope some of this can put your mind at rest. Unfortunately it seems that this forum is (understandably) attracting most vocal support from current parents with negative views of Chet’s, as opposed to the majority who believe that the school is the right place for their child.

        • Concerned parent says:

          “Have they – or are they, removing their children from the school?”

          @Lou. Some parents who have experienced ghastly pastoral and other problems have; some haven’t. I didn’t because each time there is a problem you focus on getting it resolved and move on – it’s only in retrospect when there is a break from the fire-fighting or you talk to lots of other parents (which has only happened to me recently) that you realise that the problems weren’t one-off but the result of systematic management failings and blindnesses in the whole culture at Chets.

          Frankly I wish my child wasn’t there, but having come through so much, being fairly wise to the place and how to deal with its weaknesses, developed an excellent relationship with an outstanding instrumental tutor (who incidentally was also horrified at the lack of practical support given to newcomers and the complacency about bullying), found some good academic teachers and made some deep and important friendships with peers, my child doesn’t want to leave and I have to respect that decision.

          Would I send my child there again knowing what I now know lay in wait for them? Absolutely not. I also now regret that at the time when I was dealing with conflicts with the school over various pastoral issues, I didn’t alert the relevant authorities, but as a parent who has a child boarding you have a huge vested interest in believing that things aren’t as bad as all that and will get sorted out and everything will be fine … which is of course what the school tells you ad infinitum.

        • Future parent of Chetham's says:

          Hi Lou, thanks for the reassuring comments. Yes I think he can do a trial board which will be good and help him feel more settled before September. I’m really glad your child is enjoying and thriving their time at Chetham’s which is what we are hoping will be the experience for our son. I have just talked over the visit my husband and son made to the dorms when they met the housemaster and it was a totally unannounced visit, so no-one had any time to prepare the rooms and my husband said they were all fine – not immaculate but as you would expect and he observed the housemaster’s rapport with the students which he thought was really good – firm but also a bit humorous and he could tell the kids obviously liked him, so I do feel better on that score. (my husband travels, + only got back last night to discuss these issues!). They have also eaten there twice (again both unannounced) and my son adored the food and husband said the kids who came in dining area all seemed really happy and chatty. Am starting to feel better about sending him – of course bound to be problems but also lots of amazing experiences too. Thanks.

    • To the alarm of many, age 13 is the age of consent proposed by Barrister Barbara Hewson.
      I take issue which much of what she says (and she’s been roundly demolished) but there’s also a very pertinent point which might be taken on board. How this would be done, i have no idea.
      “instead ,we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the social skills and savoir-faire to avoid drifting into compromising social situations, and prosecute modern crime”

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/may/09/lawyer-age-consent-persecution-men

      • Social skills and savoir-faire are fine as far as they go, but not enough to equip youngsters to avoid drifting into compromising social situations where huge power imbalances exist, corruption may also reign and the odds are generally stacked against them. It isn’t fair or realistic to expect children and young people to fend off abuse alone without intervention, other than coaching in social skills, or to take the blame and take it on the chin if they fall victim to abuse. By the same logic we would not need to bother charging anyone with murder either, especially not if it happened more than a few years ago because witnesses had been too afraid to come forward. Just offer everyone self defence classes, let bygones be bygones and leave it at that!

  16. Concerned parent says:

    Do you mind me asking what is the pastoral neglect that I keep hearing about as my son is not very good at looking after himself and cannot organise himself at all?

    @Future Parent. Oh dear. This is a very common problem among children at Chets, who have very demanding timetables where a lot can change suddenly and where they have a lot of different things to remember. The problem is especially bad for boarders, and of course the younger they are, the worse they are.

    You might assume that on the basis of this the school would have special measures and be specially well-prepared – as for example the National Children’s Orchestra is when it takes children on residential courses – but
    this is not the case.

    So you cannot assume your son will receive any extra help (having said that I don’t know who his housemaster, tutor or house assistants will be – there are some really good and kind individuals, some who are less so) because that is not built into the system.

    My child missed important instrumental lessons right and left and centre, lost something like seven phones in two years, had a room so untidy you couldn’t see the floor, had clean and dirty clothes completely muddled up (they sniffed to see what was wearable) for several years and was highly stressed trying to manage all this on their own.

    After a while I discovered other mothers came in at weekends and sorted out their kids’ stuff (this was in the junior boarding house). Despite repeated pleas for extra help and supervision none was forthcoming and my child was just blamed – as was I for being unable to handle boarding.

    When I described the situation to a very experienced prep school headmaster, he said the school simply wasn’t properly geared up to the needs of young (ie prep school) boarders and the demands being made were those kids normally experienced at 13+ boarding schools.

    Food and medical care are also dodgy in that you cannot rely on the fact that your son will always make mealtimes or be able to get food if he misses them, or that anyone will take sufficient notice if he becomes very tired and worn down and ensure he gets rest (unless he and you complain a lot).

    The bottom line is that there is no substitute for parental care.

    Weekly boarding is definitely better than ordinary boarding – and going into school with him sometimes to organise his room and bag etc would also help. In terms of organisation difficulties, you should flag them up to the school well in advance and ask what specific provisions they will put in place to help him (not just a vague we’ll keep an eye on him) . If he has any special needs or his lack of organisation can be put down to a medical condition, flag them up too (if necessary with a medical certificate) and again ask for details of special provision.

    • @Concernd Parent: I’ve to echo the same experience (100% match) with another music school. Missing instrumental lessons, lessons replaced with deputy teachers, no quality practice sessions and all the bullying issues added on top! They are very very defensive, when I try to raise my concerns.

      I’m not sure where all the Govt funds are flowing, as instrumental teachers will get only @ £35 per lesson and 90 lessons per year. The intention is to provide top notch music education to the elite, but how many pupils are really getting benefit from this? No wonder the pupil turnover is so high in these schools!!

    • Future parent of Chetham's says:

      Thank you for all your advice. It is worrying me already that he won’t be able to get to where he needs to be as he has me to do all that for him at the moment. He is absolutely clueless really. When he was younger he was diagnosed as mildly dyspraxic, but it didn’t really affect anything apart from his lack of sporting ability and a bit clumsy, but I might look into whether this could be affecting him more now especially in these kind of situations. I was horrified to read about the state of rooms as that is just what I fear – indeed his room would be like that at home if not for the fact that I didn’t constantly pick everything up and sort out clean and dirty laundry, wade through drum sticks and kit parts all over the floor. Do the house parents not monitor and ensure rooms are kept in a tidyish state? It wouldn’t enter my son’s head to pick anything up that was dirty. On the NCO photos I noticed that he was the only one that looked like ‘Stig of the dump’ the whole time. It’s not laziness as he will do things if told, but obviously there needs to be someone there to do the telling – constantly! Unfortunately, I am not in a position to go over every weekend as we are hoping to train him up to catch the train by himself eventually (we tend to travel everywhere by train so that part shouldn’t be too difficult), hence the house move.
      It is all very, very difficult to decide but at the moment he is failing on all counts where we are i.e. there is very little music here – the school he currently attends doesn’t even know that he plays any instruments or sings, he has never had a friend back from school or met anybody after school (he is a very likeable boy and makes friends easily on music courses and acting courses he attends) and is being failed academically. There has just been a fatal stabbing by an ex-pupil and it’s not really a place you would want to send your child to flourish. There is a lot of bullying at this school, although this particular son has escaped so far. So as you can see, we were definitely hoping that the ‘grass was a lot greener’. What do you do with someone who only wants to play music though? He isn’t happy now, that is our problem and needs the stimulation that playing provides. At the moment I am feeling he has to go but so, so confused what with all the past and present events. I think I will definitely mention the lack of organisation and try and make a big deal about it as I fear he too will end up missing half of his lessons. (I can empathise with the lost phones – ours always leaves a coat, phone, something expensive on the train if I’m not there). Do they change their timetables a lot? Sorry to sound off on you like this. I hope your child doesn’t have any more problems. It must be awful when you aren’t there immediately to sort something out and to comfort them, but then I will have to face that in the future and I don’t think I will be very good at it. Take care.

      • SMartin says:

        FutureParent- Although our child has settled in well and flourished at Chets, I would certainly agree with all that Concerned Parent has said here about the school. It has taken a very active involvement from our side to keep things on track. Yes, timetables have been changed at very short notice, and at times teachers change times of lessons without prior warning which has led to our child having to miss mealtimes. This has meant that I have to stay in constant contact with our child and ensure that they have access to food (take-away) when this happens, or make sure that news of any such changes reach the child to make sure that they don’t miss lessons, or can plan for this. At times, we’ve also had to call school on our child’s behalf to resolve such situations. Our child travels home every weekend, so that we can keep track of their well-being and of any problems.They don’t lose many things and are very careful, so we haven’t had problems on that front, although if things are occasionally lost, they haven’t been located. Often we have to anticipate likely problems that could arise. We were very hesitant and reluctant initially to call school lest we were seen as interfering but then realised that this is the only way. In terms of medical attention, we’ve had to call school when we realise that our child is ill and make sure there is some medical attention, and at times bring them home when this happens. So, in short, it is a great school, and there are some excellent benefits of sending your child there, but please be aware of these things and stay involved and engaged from the very start. I’m sure most parents do, but they often also rely on the school to resolve and anticipate problems. It has taken a long time for us to work out how things operate at this school, and it has taken a lot of energy and effort on our part, despite our child boarding and our full-time jobs. A lot of problems arise because of a clear lack of co-ordination between different departments, and between academic and music schedules. Our child has to grow up and mature very fast to be able to deal with all the pressures, which is good for them, I am sure, and it often takes a lot of pestering from us to get things moving at the school. The Brass department seems most well-organised, from what we’ve seen and heard, so you might not have the same issues. Good luck.

  17. Concerned parent says:

    @Future Parent
    Just read your last post – and wanted to add that despite gold-plated anti-bullying policies, practice has left a lot to be desired at Chets. I don’t know whether this will change now because of all the pressure, but am doubtful unless there are key changes in senior personnel, some of whom seem to be incapable of recognising bullying for what it is.

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