A prestigious Manchester music school has been criticized in a damning report which found “reputation was more important” than investigating sexual abuse allegations.
Chetham’s School of Music was one of several schools criticized in a new report into child sexual abuse.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse looked at residential music schools including Chetham’s and special schools, including the Royal School Manchester.
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The inquiry found that boarding schools were the “ideal environment for grooming”, with pupils being more dependent on adults around them than in non-residential settings.
The report said: “In the specialist music schools examined, the power and influence of often revered and influential music teachers made some pupils even more vulnerable to being sexually abused by them.
“The reputations of both the musicians and the schools were often seen as more important than their victims and potential victims when allegations were made or concerns were raised.
“The response was similar when concerns were raised about well-liked and generally respected members of staff in other school contexts, in both the independent and state sectors.”
The inquiry heard how Chetham’s former director of music Michael Brewer was “a powerful figure, having complete autonomy over all matters relating to music”.
He was jailed for six years in 2013 for sexually abusing former pupil Frances Andrade, who killed herself after giving evidence at his trial at Manchester Crown Court.
The inquiry also heard that Christopher Ling, a violin tutor at Chetham’s who was employed by Brewer, abused a number of pupils in his care, who were aged between nine and 15, in the 1980s.
Ling later took his own life as he was about to be extradited from the US to face charges in the UK.
A statement posted on Chetham’s website today (Tuesday, March 1) reads: “It is a matter of deep and profound regret to Chetham’s that former teachers at our school betrayed the trust that had been placed in them in order to harm children, for which we are truly sorry.
“Chetham’s recognizes its responsibility in safeguarding the rights of all children and will continue to be thoroughly committed to taking all appropriate steps to maintain a safe environment and to liaise with statutory agencies to ensure that any allegations of abuse are properly investigated.”
The report made seven recommendations aimed at improving safeguarding in schools, including setting nationally accredited standards and levels of safeguarding training in schools, and making the highest level of safeguarding mandatory for headteachers and designated safeguarding leads.
Prof Alexis Jay, who chaired the inquiry, said: “Schools play a central role in the lives of almost nine million children in England and half a million in Wales.
“They should be places of learning where children are nurtured by trusted teachers and are able to flourish in a safe environment.
“This is in contrast to the many shocking instances of child sexual abuse detailed in this report. They represent the opposite of everything that a school should be.
“Poor leadership frequently left staff unaware of how to respond to concerns about sexual abuse or too afraid of potential consequences to act.
“In some cases, it was clear that protecting the reputation of the school was prioritized over the protection of children from sexual abuse.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.