Michael Church: This plan misses so many key points about education

So, Ed Balls is rethinking his plans to turn 11 million Britons into paedophile suspects: not much of a surprise, given the near-universal derision that greeted it. The plan may need "adjustments", he says, which we can take as code for a total retreat: yet another crack-brained New Labour notion is about to bite the dust – and so it should. The Vetting and Barring Scheme requires everyone having regular contact with children, in any context outside a family one, to be approved by the Government after registering on a state-run database.

Youth club leaders, choirmasters, Brown Owls – even members of parental lift-sharing schemes –would all come under the cosh, paying £64 a head to pre-emptively clear their name. Philip Pullman is one of several children's authors who have said they will withdraw their classroom services, if this rule comes into force.

Yet, as anyone could have told Balls and co, the scheme won't make children any safer, except by accident: Ian Huntley actually had been listed, but word had just not reached the Cambridgeshire police. And the punitive effect of publicly-voiced suspicions which later proved unfounded would bear down heavily on any adult unfortunate enough to be investigated.

Balls says the plan may need "adjustments", but that is clearly an understatement for what may soon befall it.

As many commentators have pointed out, this scheme reflects an insidious new orthodoxy which holds that only authorised adults have any business engaging with children. The fear of being accused of improper conduct now prevents adults in many spheres from exercising the benign guardianship that used to be routine.

The most extreme expression of this fear, cited by the commentator Jenni Russell, is a draft guide for teachers at the Purcell school for young musicians, which presents the situation in a breathtakingly lurid light: "Some adolescents experience periods of profound emotional disturbance and turmoil when they may be unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. They may be temporarily insane. They can thus present a danger to even the most careful of teachers," it says.

The advice that follows recommends an almost paranoid circumspection in all tutorial dealings, and ends with the sentence: "It is helpful to think of current pupils as clients, rather than friends, as a doctor does." You'd laugh, if it wasn't so sad.

Peter Crook, head of this distinguished institution, points out with exasperation that these guidelines have no official status: they were mere backroom brainstorming, just a draft. But the guidelines the school has adopted do indicate that such fears are real enough. They say that they "are as much about protecting ourselves as they are about protecting the children", and observe that one-to-one instrumental tuition is a "particular risk".

One of their key requirements – which all music schools now follow – is that such lessons must take place in a room with a window to the corridor, which "must not be covered". If lessons take place outside school premises, another adult must be within earshot; if in doubt, when having a one-to-one meeting, "leave the door open"; "if you need to take an unaccompanied child in your car, be sure the journey is known to another member of staff or the child's parents".

While it's easy to mock such zealousness, music-teaching is by its nature a high-risk zone. The improperly amorous music teacher is one of the stock characters of Italian opera, as in The barber of Seville; the list of composers taking sexual advantage of their pupils starts with rumours of Vivaldi preying on the girls in his musical convent, and goes on for ever.

Beethoven habitually fell for his female piano pupils; Schubert's four-hand piano music was a lovely way to get up close and personal with his young protégées. Robert Schumann's love affair with the 10-years-younger Clara Wieck – which blossomed into marriage – began when she was in her mid-teens. Tchaikovsky would have been struck off time and again, had he lived now, for repeated amorous advances to his young male relatives and conservatoire pupils. "My beauty is a gymnasium student, and must finish her examinations," he wrote of a boy who had taken his fancy.

And this tradition still pervades the music scene, if not as flagrantly as a few decades ago. I know of some happy marriages that began as clandestine affairs between music students and professors; I also know of some unhappy victims of sexual harassment by conductors and choirmasters. Part of the problem lies in the power relationships involved. But part of it – which shouldn't be seen only as a problem – lies in the sheer passion the shared pursuit of musical excellence can arouse. Music, as Plato famously declared, is dangerous stuff.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor