Gove: Music tutor no-touch rule is ‘wrong’

Education Secretary Michael Gove has condemned a campaign by the Musicians Union, ABRSM, NSPCC and Youth Music which instructed music teachers to avoid any physical contact with children while teaching them how to play an instrument.

The video in question is below:

In a formal response, Gove said that the campaign “plays to a culture of fear that any adult who touches a child is somehow guilty of inappropriate conduct”. His open letter states:

“There are many occasions when it will be totally appropriate, indeed positively right, for teachers or tutors to be in physical contact with a pupil. It is entirely proper and necessary for adults to touch children when they demonstrate how to play a musical instrument, when they show how to play certain sports, when they are leading a child away from trouble, when they are comforting distressed or disconsolate children and when they are intervening to prevent disorder and harm.”

He continues:

“Teachers should be trusted to touch children without feeling they are somehow transgressing the rules of appropriate conduct. If we stigmatise and seek to restrict all physical contact between responsible adults and children, we will only undermine healthy relations between the generations. If we play to the assumption that any physical contact is somehow suspect then we will make children more suspicious of adults and adults more nervous and confused about their role in our society.”

You can read the full letter here.

Readers of this blog will be gratified to hear that Michael Gove’s response was precipitated by a groundswell of anger by music teachers in response to my post on the ABRSM forum on this subject. The reactions from music teachers hit the headlines last month, and the government obviously realised that a dose of common sense was necessary.

Among music teachers, there is a general sense that there was a lack of consultation, that the organisations’ campaign (however well-meaning) fuels paranoia, that the video itself is both unrealistic and patronising, and that those behind the campaign have completely failed to understand what is required in music teaching. I haven’t seen a single comment in support of the campaign.

If you’re interested, the ABRSM forum thread that started it all is alive and kicking, and you can read it here:

Of course child protection is important, but, as James Forsyth mentioned yesterday in the Spectator, society cannot function without some degree of trust. Campaigns such as this damage trust between adults and children, while at the same time fail to provide any evidence of their potential effectiveness in reducing child abuse.