Chetham's School of Music put 'reputation before pupils' over sexual abuse allegations, report finds

An internationally-renowned music school in Manchester put its reputation before its pupils, a report into child sexual abuse has said.

A number of pupils suffered abuse at the hands of teachers at Chetham's School of Music between the 1970s and 1990s.

The report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse also concluded the power and influence of eminent music teachers made some pupils even more vulnerable.

In a damning statement, it said: "On occasion, when allegations of child sexual abuse arose, headteachers moved to protect the reputation of the school rather than the welfare of victims and other children at the school."

The school's response to the allegations has been examined by the independent inquiry, which said boarding schools are the “ideal environment for grooming”.

Chetham's has backed the findings of the new report, and says while it cannot can undo past failures, it will pledge to deliver a "gold standard" in safeguarding.

The report found that, across 12 schools, as well as eight schools which were no longer operating, there was a reluctance to report sexual abuse perpetrated by staff and pupils.

It said, "despite 20 years of enhanced focus on safeguarding, our schools are not as safe for children as they should be."

The inquiry heard that at Chetham’s School, former director of music Michael Brewer was "a powerful figure, having complete autonomy over all matters relating to music".

In 2013, Frances Andrade, a former pupil at the school, took her own life after giving evidence on how Brewer had groomed and sexually abused her.

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.

"At Chetham’s in the 1980s and 1990s, both Michael Brewer and Christopher Ling, amongst others, exploited their positions of power and their one-to-one tuition with pupils to sexually abuse children," the report said.

  • John O'Brien, the Secretary to the Inquiry summarises the findings at Chetham's.

It continued: "[A] headteacher of Chetham’s School of Music, assumed the instrumental teachers were 'admirable people with absolutely right relationships with their pupils' and that extra tuition outside of school hours was a 'splendid aspiration'.

"There was a failure to recognise that such occasions were potential opportunities for abuse and therefore no safeguards were put in place to minimise such risks and to protect pupils."

Former Chetham's director of music Michael Brewer was jailed for six years after being found guilty of sexually abusing a pupil.

In a statement Chetham's said its thoughts were with the victim and survivors of the abuse.

It added: "Our school can never apologise enough for the way in which former tutors betrayed and manipulated the trust that had been placed in them, and for the failure to respond appropriately to cases of abuse in the past.

"This part of our history is a matter of deep and profound regret, today and always. For every survivor and for every person affected, we are sorry.

"We also know that apologies are not enough. We must ensure that no child will ever again suffer from the failings of residential schools as in the past.

"As a result of the bravery of victims and survivors who have spoken out, this school today is a place where care for students – their happiness, their health and their wellbeing – underpins our every thought and every action.

"Today we renew our pledge as a school to deliver a gold standard in safeguarding.

"We wholeheartedly agree with the findings in the report and its recommendations for improved safeguarding across the UK, spanning Inspection and Enforcement, Guardianship, Regulation of Boarding Schools and the specialist nature of safeguarding in this environment.

"Nationwide change must follow this report. We pledge to continue to strive to play a leading role in driving that change by sharing the lessons learnt from our past experiences with education leaders at other schools and institutions. We will work for the benefit of children everywhere, not just those in our own care.

"None of this work can undo past failures, but we will do everything in our power to ensure that young people across the UK today are safer and better protected than they once were."

Chetham's says the school is now in a place where care for student's happiness, health and wellbeing underpins every thought and action.

The investigation looked at residential specialist music schools and residential special schools, where children faced higher risks of sexual abuse, and went on to examine various other types of school, including day schools, where staff had been convicted of the sexual abuse of pupils, or where serious safeguarding concerns had arisen.

The first phase of the inquiry, with public hearings held during September and October 2019, focused on residential music schools, including Chetham’s.

It also examined residential special schools, including Appletree School in Cumbria, and the Royal School Manchester.

The allegations were largely reported and investigated or responded to between 1990 and 2017, and related to incidents alleged to have taken place from the 1960s to 2014.

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."