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IICSA report warns of particular safeguarding challenges at music and choir schools

11 March 2022

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Wells Cathedral School’s Music School

Wells Cathedral School’s Music School

MUSIC schools, including choir schools, present “particular challenges in terms of safeguarding”, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) warns in a new report on residential schools.

The report, published on Wednesday of last week, includes a section on Wells Cathedral School. In 2006, Julien Bertrand, a former staff member at the school, was convicted of sexual offences against a pupil (RS-A202), and against another boy at a school where he had worked previously. He received a six-year prison sentence in April 2007 (News, 4 October 2019).

During an IICSA hearing in 2019, the lead counsel to the Inquiry, Fiona Scolding QC, said that Bertrand’s behaviour “showed all the hallmarks of grooming, something which the school did not fully recognise at the time”, and the events has led the school to “significantly sharpen” its practice.

The report covers other safeguarding concerns. The Designated Safeguarding Lead reported that she had received and recorded concerns over a period of several years that a member of cathedral staff had given lifts to boys in his car, and had allowed children to enter his accommodation next to the school grounds. She had discussed her concerns with cathedral safeguarding staff, she said, “but, to her disappointment, no formal disciplinary action was taken.”

Since May 2019, a written Safeguarding Partnership has been established between the school and the cathedral. A code of conduct for cathedral staff in contact with choristers was in development at the time of the IICSA hearing.

Wells Cathedral School is one of four specialist music schools in the country for which the Department for Education provides income-assessed grants or bursaries to pay all or part of the fees for children. In all four, there have been allegations of sexual abuse of children by teachers or other adults working at the school.

In 2013, Frances Andrade took her own life shortly after giving evidence at the trial of Michael Brewer, a former director of music at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, who was convicted of sexual abuse against her when she was a pupil. Incidents of child sexual abuse at the school, which occurred between the 1970s and ’90s, have led to five adults facing criminal charges. The choristers of Manchester Cathedral are educated at the school.

The IICSA report observes that music schools “present particular challenges in terms of safeguarding”, as instrumental tuition involves a high proportion of one-to-one teaching, “and often a degree of physical contact will be necessary.” Tuition may be provided by “renowned and distinguished instrumentalists, who teach on a freelance basis without qualifications or training for teaching children”.

In choir schools, it notes, choristers will come into regular contact with adults in the choir, or adults working at the cathedral who are not employees of the school. “Children who aspire to become successful musicians may look up to and even revere their teacher, who may seek to exploit their power and authority. . . Concerns about being seen as ‘difficult’ may dissuade children from making complaints about their teachers, who can have significant influence over their future education and career.”

Former pupils of music schools spoke of an atmosphere that could be “intensively competitive and emotionally charged, with insufficient regard for the emotional well-being of children”.

In recent years, former choristers’ reports of sexual abuse have led to the conviction of former choirmasters for offences (News, 2 November 2006; 2 May 2007; 29 April 2016; 22 February 2019).

Read the IICSA report on residential schools here

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