Chetham's School of Music headteacher announces retirement before trials of two former teachers

Claire Moreland has written to the school’s pupils telling them she will leave next summer to 'liaise with the School Governors as they appoint my successor'

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The headteacher of Chetham’s School of Music has announced her resignation just months before the trials begin of two former teachers accused of raping pupils at the school.

Claire Moreland has written to the elite Manchester school’s 300 pupils telling them she will retire after 17 years’ in charge next summer so she can “liaise with the School Governors as they appoint my successor”.

The school was thrust into the spotlight two years ago following the conviction of Michael Brewer, its former Director of Music, who was found guilty of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl in 1979 and 1980. His victim, the gifted violinist Frances Andrade, killed herself after giving evidence against him where she was subjected to intense cross-examination.

Brewer was jailed for six years and his ex-wife Hilary Brewer for 21 months for her role in the assault. His trial led to Greater Manchester Police launching Operation Kiso focusing on abuse allegations at ‘Chets’ or the nearby Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), as well as other institutions, after more women came forward claiming they were victims of sexual assault while students.

Mrs Moreland, 56, denied she inadvertently misled parents of pupils at the £31,000 a year school by writing to them stating that the GMP investigation “relates to a period of 20-40 years ago”. Subsequent media reports stated police were looking into more recent allegations of sexual abuse leading to the head sending a clarification email confirming this the following day.

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Chetham's School of Music in Manchester (Corbis)

The school’s ability to safeguard children was called into question following Brewer’s trial when two independent reports from Manchester Children’s Services and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) exposed “a number of weaknesses” in the school’s safeguarding processes and procedures. Chets said at the time it was urgently addressing these issues.

Malcolm Layfield, who resigned as head of strings at the RNCM in 2013, will stand trial in June accused of raping one of his former students from Chets in 1982 when she was 18. He denies the charge.

Also in June Wen Zhou Li, a Chinese-born violin teacher who was used as on school posters to recruit foreign students, stands accused of one count of rape and two counts of indecent assault of a teenage pupil at Chets between March 1996 and May 1997. He also denies the charges.

The allegations against Brewer, as well as those relating to the two teachers about to stand trial, all relate to the period before Mrs Moreland became head of the school in September 1999.

Making her resignation announcement in an email to students in March she said: “I am writing to let you know that I will be retiring from Chetham’s School of Music on 31st August 2016 after 17 years as Head. I am sharing my decision with 18 months’ notice in order to liaise with the School Governors as they appoint my successor, and then to work with the new Head to lay the foundations for the next exciting phase for Chetham’s, not least involving our new world-class Concert Hall!

 

“It has been a rare privilege to serve as Head of this unique establishment, and I would like to thank everyone sincerely for all the wonderful support I have received throughout my time here, support which has helped me to lead the School through much development and progress.”

Two more music teachers linked to Chetham’s or the RNCM have been convicted of abusing students. Nicholas Smith, 66, a conductor, was sentenced to eight months in prison last September after admitting sexually assaulting a 15-year-old Chets pupil at his holiday cottage in Buxton in the 1970s.

In November Duncan McTier, 59, a double bass teacher, pleaded guilty at Liverpool crown court to two counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted indecent assault against young women from RNCM in Manchester and Purcell school in Hertfordshire in the 1980s and 1990s.

Chets’ most recent inspection by the ISI, carried out in May last year, found the quality of students’ achievements and learning is “excellent overall and exceptional in music”. It also praised the quality of governance, leadership and management as “excellent” and that “stringent recruitment checks ensure the suitability of all staff to work with children”.

A spokesperson for Chetham’s said there was “no connection” between Mrs Moreland’s “planned retirement” and the upcoming trials. “Claire felt that, having made her decision, it made sense to communicate it to give the School as much notice as possible to recruit the best possible successor for her role and give a good handover period. There have already been several adverts for Headships commencing in September 2016 in educational publications and many independent schools require a full year’s notice.”

Operation Kiso timeline

8 February 2013 - Michael Brewer, Chetham’s Director of Music from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, found guilty of indecently assaulting a pupil, Frances Andrade, between 1978 and 1982. She committed suicide after giving evidence at their trial. His ex-wife Hilary Brewer also convicted for her role in the assault.

11 February - Operation Kiso official launched focusing on abuse allegations at Chetham’s or the RNCM and other institutions after more former pupils come forward following Brewer’s conviction.

14 February - Wen Zhou Li, a violin teacher at the Royal Northern College of Music and former teacher at Chets, arrested on charges of rape over allegations relating to the period while he taught at Chets.

26 March – Michael Brewer sentenced to six years, Hilary Brewer to 21 months.

8 May – GMP say more than 30 women have made allegations of abuse, relating to the school.

12 June – Michael Brewer loses appeal.

7 August – Malcolm Layfield arrested on suspicion of raping three girls in the 1980s and 1990s

1 September 2014 – Former Chets teacher Nicholas Smith pleads guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old pupil in the 1970s. He is jailed for eight months.

17 October – Layfield rearrested on suspicion of the rape and indecent assault of a woman between 1988 and 1991 when she was aged between 18 and 21.

11 November – Duncan McTier pleads guilty to two counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted indecent assault against young women from the RNCM in Manchester and Purcell school in Hertfordshire in the 1980s and 1990s. Given jail sentence suspended for two years and ordered to do 240 hours community service.

June – Former Chetham’s teachers Wen Zhou Li and Malcolm Layfield to stand trial on charges of sex offences.