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The only way to stop the drip-drip demolition of cherished music schools

As the first to raise the alarm ten years ago over a climate of sexual abuse in English music schools, and the first to expose subsequent abuses, I watch with dismay the daily diet of accusations and investigations against individuals and institutions, who are innocent until proven guilty.

The son of Marcel Gazelle, accused co-founder of the Yehudi Menuhin School, has voiced anguish over whether some of the charges against his father are a reflection of relative values, of changing mores and times. He may have a point in some cases. In others, there is abundant evidence that certain teachers abused their pupils and the schools did all they could to cover up.


Clearly, the police must investigate every accusation of abuse. Inevitably, the media will chase the paddy waggons. Ideally, the worst perpetrators will be brought to justice and the victims will feel vindicated. The death of Frances Andrade must not have been in vain.

The schools, caught in a perfect storm of public prurience and their own past timidity, have battened down the hatches. Some have governors who are implicated in past cover-ups. They have not done enough to inspire public confidence. Nor have they been subjected to the standards of scrutiny applicable in state schools. It is possible that one school or other will fail this year. Times are tough and parents are hypersensitive. But the best schools must be allowed to continue their work.

There is only one way to pursue justice for the victims and protect the schools from destruction. That is for the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, to call a public inquiry into sexual abuse in British musical schools over the past 40 years. A judge-led inquiry will stop media speculation in its tracks and allow schools to go about their business until the report is published. An inquiry would also create the possibility of introducing reforms to a system that has never worked at world level and needs urgently to be dragged into the 21st century.

I have called before for an inquiry. I see it now as the only possible remedy to save the best of the British music schools. Please sign Ian Pace’s public petition here.

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  1. John Millner says:

    I agree that it is time for Michael Gove to establish a public inquiry, which should cover all aspects of musical education and not just sexual abuse, and I echo Norman Lebrecht’s call for signatures.

    However, I don’t believe that an inquiry by itself will silence media speculation. There are bound to be further revelations in the weeks and months to come. The police will periodically turn over the results of their investigations to the CPS, who will, it is hoped, bring charges in many cases. Reporting of allegations will rightly continue. (And I think media coverage so far has been careful and well-researched.)

    But there are responses available now to the leaders of these schools which will help; some proposals:

    1. Acknowledge that there have been long-standing systemic failings in safeguarding.

    2. Offer on behalf of your institution a public, unconditional, unqualified apology for the harm that has been done.

    3. Abandon the use of the word “historic” to describe events. Quite apart from anything else, it is hugely insulting to those who have been abused.

    4. Indicate clear, unqualified approval for the establishment of an independent inquiry and announce your intention to cooperate fully.

    5. Adopt a safeguarding policy which requires any member of staff who suspects abuse to report it without delay to the Local Authority Designated Officer.

    6. Reform your structure of governance to include parents, academic teachers, music teachers, local social services, students, and ancillary staff. If your governing body does not reflect the community of your school, change it NOW.

    7. The Great-and-Good are part of the problem. Kick them off your governing body. Make them School Fellows. Invite them to concerts. Don’t make them governors.

    8. If your structure of governance was devised in 1406 to avoid feudal taxes, don’t you think it is time for an update? It is 2013 you know. You probably own an iPad.

    9. Establish an independent, student-run, directly-elected students’ council to represent the interests of students.

    10. Facilitate, or just allow, an independent, parent-run parents’ group.

    11. Subscribe to an independent child-listening service.

    Too radical? How’s the alternative going?

    • John Millner has written an excellent post. In ‘defense’ of Chet’s, it must be said that, back in 1969 when it became an SMS (Took a second or tow for me to work out that we are not talking text messages here!), it was in desperate need of recognition and funding. Those at the top adopted a policy of attracting the ‘great and good’ to the Board of Feoffess as a way of achieving this. If they happened to be members of the same Lodge, so much the better. Little has changed, by the look of things.
      But now has to be the time to throw the doors wide open and embrace change at the top. Chet’s has long since been accessing public money for education, new buildings (Claire’s joker whenever anyone asks her anything or questions her running of the school) etc. and so the need for ‘words to be had in the ears of….’ has gone.

      • Lindsay says:

        Unfortunately, I think if anything, the appeal to fund the new building has pushed the school further down the path of seeking favours from “the great and the good”. There is a rather revealing case study, produced by the fundraising consultants employed by Chetham’s to assist with this project. The case study can be found on the consultant’s website here:

        In particular, that case study shows that the school (upon the advice from their consultants) pursued a positive policy of following up personal connections of pupils and staff in order to attract funding.

        To quote from their conclusions:
        “The Chairman and Board led the way in using their
        contacts to bring support to the appeal but Chetham’s
        made sure that everyone, governors, staff and students,
        shared the aims of the appeal. It was a student who
        involved her godmother in a successful approach to a
        leading charity and a member of staff who had great
        success through approaching a fellow musician. Personal
        connections are essential, cold approaches to potential
        donors simply do not work.”

        “For Chetham’s the ability to invite potential
        benefactors to concerts where they could appreciate
        the talent and spirit of the students was a priceless
        selling tool. Perhaps the main weakness was the lack
        of exposure in London. Having the Earl of Wessex as
        an active patron, hosting a dinner at Buckingham Palace
        where the School was able to present itself to the
        influential was ideal.”

        Did anyone consider whether this proudly self-confessed policy of seeking patronage could have implications for the culture of the school itself? Does it make a difference that some pupils and staff are known to have contacts through whom large sums can be raised?

        Hopefully the new facilities will benefit all, but a £36 million prestige project cannot have been the only option. The case study says that this was a “historic and heroic” decision by the feoffees. Perhaps what is required from the governing body is a little less grandiose maneouvring and a little more focus on the creation of a safe culture where all pupils are treated equally and with respect.

    • Random Person says:

      The situation is extremely dangerous.

      It’s not just that the music schools’ governance is still living in the 20th century; their funding is as well. The schools are notionally independent but are funded in large part by scholarships paid by the state. Those scholarships are available only to children who have already reached a high standard of musicianship, which almost by definition involves substantial investment of time and money by the parents.

      It’s essentially the assisted places scheme, 1980-1997, with the crucial difference that the assisted places scheme did not, in broad terms, keep afloat schools that would otherwise have closed. Not all independent schools were involved in the scheme, few had more than a handful of places, none closed when the scheme closed, some were able to continue a similar level of bursary from their own resources and, crucially, there was not a regular drip of scandal from the schools involved.

      If you were an incoming Labour government, wouldn’t you just shut down the whole scheme? If the orchestras need to train players, then that is no more the state’s problem than training football players, which is the responsibility of football clubs. The specialist music schools may have very high standards of musical education but the general education that they offer is nothing special, and there has been a steady diet of scandal about them, to which they have not responded well. Imagine you’re an incoming education secretary. What’s the downside of closing the whole funding scheme down, and leaving it to those that want such an education (or its product) to fund it?

      The rabbit-in-headlights response of schools like Chet’s conceals an existential crisis. Schools which offer training for an industry that is widely regarded as irrelevant and elitist, which don’t offer anything special in terms of other educational outcomes, and which consume thirty grand a year in fees per place, funded by the state, but channeled almost exclusively to the middle classes? With added child abuse scandals? Why wouldn’t you shut the funding down?

  2. Concerned parent says:

    John – I hope the management, governors and feoffees of Chetham’s read your post.

    Your demands are reasonable, practical and long overdue. Unlike the mealy-mouthed PR-speak with which Chets have been aggravating their problems, the actions you suggest offer a new clear way forward which would restore the trust of parents, students and the wider community in the school.

    Those who prefer instead to continue prevaricating and hiding behind legalities and bureaucracy should resign immediately. This would clear the decks for people with vision who are unencumbered by the need to defend, or deny, a shady past.

    The DfE is currently considered the school’s action plan. There is no good reason why it should not incorporate the actions you suggest. If the management, governors and feoffees continue to resist doing so, perhaps it’s time for the DfE to step in, close the school and re-open it with a new management.

  3. Julie Craven says:

    [redacted] We have been contacted by the real Julie Craven to say that this email did not come from her. Malign individuals are trolling around this topic.

    • Julie, concern for the students does not preclude concern for the survival of the institutions. I have permitted your abuse in the interest of open discussion. If you have any personal standards at all, you will withdraw the imputation of hypocrisy. NL

    • Concerned parent says:

      What music schools need are critical friends, and they need to listen to them. The mess they are currently in is directly attributable to the fact that they haven’t done this – probably ever. An awful lot of people over the years have just given up on them, or would prefer just not to think about them in the hope that they are not too bad really. I think this has applied to the DfE and a large part of the musical establishment (including conservatoire professors) who will be well aware of the shortcomings, if not the sufferings, of many of their ex SMS students. People haven’t dared criticise for fear – in these philistine times – that funding for SMSs will be pulled and the whole precarious world of classical music education and employment undermined. Norman and his blog are performing an important public service for which he deserves an OBE.

  4. Concerned parent says:

    Well-said Norman. Specialist music schools are in urgent need of a rethink for the 21st century. Educationally and musically, they are stuck in a 20th-century time warp.

    What are they for? How should we measure their success, or their value for money?

    Why are they the least regulated of all UK schools? State funding renders them immune to the demands of the market (unlike other independent schools) yet their independent status means they can ignore the regulation and pedagogical norms of the state sector.

    Parents and students at SMSs are often trapped in schools which they know have many failings as they feel there is no other way their children can obtain the high-level musical teaching and community they need. But even if they dare to speak out (which many do not, for fear their child will be denied musical opportunities at the school, or pushed out altogether), the most they have achieved is some improvement in an individual child’s situation rather than the wider reforms which would benefit everyone.

    • Yes, more external involvement would certainly help to make these places less insular and less of a law unto themselves. I think the suggestions are brilliant. I still think though, even if the current managers, governors, ect. were to implement everything suggested, reforms would be far from complete. Some of those implicated in this situation and the way it has been handled could not be trusted at this point by many no matter what they did. They have shown their true colours too much for too long with too much damage done.

      P.S. No relation to the real Julie Craven or the troll Julie Craven!

  5. It is extrememly hurtful and offensive for people who have not experienced the kind of sexual, emotional and psychological abuse at these schools to talk of these matters as ‘ historic’ or in any way to undermine the credibility of the people who have spoken out. This is precisely the kind of toxic atmosphere that pervades these institutions. Students and parents have been scared to speak out incase it should it affect their or their children’s futures. When they have spoken out they have been ostracized and called trouble makers.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Julie, on what basis, please, have you decided that the allegations are “false and speculative”? Do not the alleged victims deserve a fair hearing in exactly the same way as the alleged abusers most definitely do? Are you privy to information that the rest of us do not have?

    I have seen the huge amount of work which has gone into verifying and seeking corroboration of claims before the media were prepared to go public with them. If you know something which undermines these claims I think you should make that clear.


  7. Julie Craven says:

    I did not write or send the original post and have asked Mr Lebrecht to take it down. I do follow this site but only occasionally and knew nothing about this post until this morning when a colleague said he had read it.

    • Lindsay says:

      In that case please accept my apologies and I am very sorry that somebody was malicious enough to impersonate you.

  8. Geoff Miles says:

    I’ve watched this debate become increasingly polarised. I think that it is absolutely right that the only solution now is for a wide ranging and independent inquiry. Many of those involved in discussions here and elsewhere on social media are themselves very much involved emotionally and personally. Not everyone is entirely open in declaring his / her own relationship to the debate, or honest about personal bias or other interests. This often seems to lead to a situation where a discussion degenerates into an argument about the motivation of others: “apologists” or “appeasers” on one side, and those fuelling a media witch hunt on the other. Useful debate becomes pretty much impossible when one has to fit into either one camp or the other. I wouldn’t necessarily accuse Norman personally of disingenuousness, but I’m not sure how much of the (often anonymous) discussion here has been either useful or healthy. It will take some wisdom to sift anger and personal resentment from the core understanding of what has gone wrong here morally over the course of many years. It will certainly require political courage to criticise, and rebuke if necessary, some powerful and influential people. And it will demand artistic intelligence and human integrity to fortify and seperate the essential core values of the institutions involved from the hollow bureaucratic structures that have evolved to protect the interests of those running them.

    • You wouldn’t ‘necessarily’? What do you mean by that? Clarify, or leave the site.

      • Geoff Miles says:

        Well – I think a site like this is something of a grey area when it comes to editorial responsibility. You are very careful in what you write personally, but you must also be aware of the sort of debate that it will inevitably provoke. There have been times when teenage students have been engaged in seemingly unmoderated emotional and angry exchanges with adults over this particular topic, and I’m not sure how healthy that can have been for either party.

        • You accused us of being disingenuous and resisted an opportunity to apologise. Please leave the site.

          • Geoff Miles says:

            I don’t think there is anything unreasonable or unneccesarily provocative in what I have written here at all. Your reaction seems rather to illustrate my point – all you see here is a personal attack. That was not what I intended – I’m very happy to apologise if I was misunderstood.

          • You made a grave accusation. I accept your apology.

  9. I surmise that we would be waiting a long time for an enquiry and in the meantime victims of abuse, regardless of how long ago it look place, need to have their questions answered and for justice to be done. In the meantime, each SMS should look to their safeguarding and whistle blowing procedures in order for people to be heard. Students need to have independent adults, trained in safeguarding procedures – pastoral rather than music staff, whom they can approach with their concerns . Teaching rooms should be open to view and/or chaperones sit in on one to one lessons. Governing bodies consist of education and music professionals, school staff and parents. Fundraising should be separate from but discussed by governing bodied. School Councils should be set up to enable the student voice be heard. As a head teacher of a state school, this is what we already have in place. Time to learn from the state sector?

  10. The extent of the phenomenon, steadily revealed like the proverbial iceberg, is mortifying. Several of my family members are in private music lessons with seemingly wonderful teachers. But I admit to being in a constant state of hypervigilance and worry about what might happen behind closed doors. It is really embarrassing to find oneself preoccupied with potential sexual or emotional abuse when it comes to what ought to be the joy of music learning! Utterly sad.
    Perhaps it is also appropriate for anyone involved in the music field to ask themselves whether they would “say something” if they were to ‘see something”. It is hard to imagine that the string of abuses by the same teachers at the same schools would go unreported for so long. It is often implied that these abuses occured in the past with the implication that they are less likely to be ongoing in view of enhanced safeguards. But one wonders if the culture within the music teaching profession is also changing. Is that self-imposed protective wall that encumbers it truly lifted, thus freeing everyone to speak up?

  11. I would also like to see the Headmasters (In the case of Chet’s that’d be John Vallins) and their Boards of Governors (Chet’s was chaired at the time by Ewert Boddington) issue full and public statements apologising for what went on under their watch. If they were personally aware of, or colluded in, any cover-up, this must also be investigated and if proven, dealt with.

    • Former Chets says:

      Peter Hullah seems to have escaped all this relatively unscathed. I believe he was responsible for Mike Brewer leaving Chet’s in 1994 without any mark against his name thus allowing his to continue working with children.

  12. Good point. As ghastly as the situation has been, it might be slightly comforting in some ways to be able to pin responsibility onto one or two people who were at least out of the way, but it isn’t that simple, or that reassuring.

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