Gove: Tutors should be able to touch music pupils

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

media captionMr Gove said the advice sends out completely the wrong message and 'plays to a culture of fear'

Education Secretary Michael Gove has hit out at the Musicians' Union for advising teachers to avoid all physical contact with their pupils.

A union training video says touching pupils could expose music tutors, who often teach in one-to-one sessions, to charges of inappropriate behaviour.

Mr Gove said the advice played to a "culture of fear among adults and children".

But the Musicians' Union says careers have been ruined by false allegations.

It says instrumental music teachers are particularly vulnerable as they are often alone with pupils when they give lessons.

In his letter to the union's general secretary John Smith, and other youth and music bodies, Mr Gove said: "By telling your music teachers that they should avoid any physical contact with children, it sends out completely the wrong message.

"It plays to a culture of fear among both adults and children, reinforcing the message that any adult who touches a child is somehow guilty of inappropriate contact.

image captionThe Musicians' Union says tutors should find alternatives to touching

"We must move away from this presumption and the Department for Education is taking steps to restore common sense to this whole area."

He said there were many occasions when it was "totally appropriate" and "positively right" for teaches or tutors to be in physical contact with a pupil.

He said it was "proper and necessary" for adults to touch children when they demonstrated how to play a musical instrument.

And it was particularly important that those teaching instruments should feel confident that they could demonstrate how to master and improve pupils' techniques.

"Whether it's adjusting the position of a violin or demonstrating how to handle drumsticks, showing how a trombone slide should work or introducing new subtleties in oboe playing, teachers should be trusted to touch children without feeling they are somehow transgressing the rules of appropriate conduct."

'More effective'

He added that the government was publishing shorter, clearer guidance on the subject and changing the way allegations of abuse against teachers are dealt with.

But Diane Widdison, national organiser for teaching at the Musicians' Union, said it existed to protect its members' careers and the children they teach.

"When allegations are made against music teachers they are suspended immediately while an investigation is carried out and their careers are damaged or ruined even if they are declared innocent.

"In one recent case the parents of a child learning the guitar complained that the teacher had touched their child's finger to pluck a guitar string."

media captionDiane Widdison, from the Musicians Union, explained why they had felt the need to issue the advice to their members

She added that it should not be necessary to touch children to teach them how to play an instrument.

"In many cases having to be more creative and find alternatives to touching reinforces the learning process because it ensures that children are thinking for themselves.

"This is a more effective way of teaching and means that children remember the correct posture and positions when they are practising alone," she said.

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