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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Cover Supervisor for school in Leeds

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education are looking fo...

BTEC / A Level Business StudiesTeacher (Full time)

£100 - £160 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: BTEC and...

Maths Intervention / Learning Mentor

£60 - £80 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are loo...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are