Are talented children at risk in specialist music schools?

Andrea Creech

The case of former youth choir director Michael Brewer, convicted at Manchester Crown Court of indecently assaulting a former student, and the subsequent tragic death of brave, talented Frances Andrade, has been followed by a series of allegations concerning other music teachers. This has many of us wondering about the wisdom of placing children in specialist music schools.

Within these institutions children form close bonds with their instrumental teachers. These pupil-teacher relationships are central to the child’s musical and emotional development. Often, they span several years, with regular and frequent one-to-one contact. Added to that, the focus of the contact is music – which has the power to evoke strong emotional responses.

A body of research, including my own, has demonstrated the far-reaching consequences of teacher-student one-to-one relationships in music. Instrumental teachers have been found to play powerful roles in the musical, social and emotional development of their students. Musical development, self-esteem, confidence and motivation are affected. The most successful relationships are those where there is mutual respect, common purpose and child-centred rather than teacher-centred goals.

Furthermore, amongst school-aged instrumental pupils, transparent and reciprocal communication with parents is vital.  Yet, those who have charge of teaching our children and play this powerful role in their lives often have no specialist teacher training or support for the social, emotional and pastoral aspects of their jobs.

It is time to demand more from prestigious music institutions. All instrumental teachers should have the highest quality teacher training that would equip them with the tools to be truly reflective practitioners, who have the integrity and skills to support their students’ holistic development in effective and positive ways.

Yes, our young musicians need guidance from excellent musicians. But above all else the social and emotional health and wellbeing of our children must be protected. All teachers should be carefully selected, trained and supported – before they are entrusted with our children. Musicians are not an exception to this rule.

A specialist pathway for instrumental teachers has been developed as part of the IOE’s Teaching and Learning in Higher and Professional Education programme