'Sexual bullying', unfounded claims and the headless music school

In the absence of comment from the Purcell School, whose head has resigned without explanation in the middle of term, I have been reminded by readers of a spate of allegations that surfaced last year and were declared to be ‘unfounded’ after a local education authority investigation. The investigation centred on the way the head had dealt with the allegations.

The matter was reported in the excellent Watford Observer, but it continues to be discussed among parents and teaching staff. It has not gone away, even though the governors acted properly and did everything that was required in the circumstances.

Now, unless a credible reason is given for the head’s sudden departure, rumours will flourish and the school will remain unsettled. There are suspicions, voiced on this site, that Peter Crook, the departed head, was undermined by unprofessional members of his staff. Was he, perhaps, himself the victim of in-house bullying?

This is a time for firm, transparent leadership. A fuller statement is required from the school’s chairman, Roy Cervenka.

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  • The situation requires immediate clarification, particularly as the School is preparing for a significant anniversary next year. I believe that many of the rumours that circulated during the last four years relate not so much to the story in the Watford Observer but to earlier allegations made by pupils. If these allegations are true, it seems extraordinary that the status quo was allowed to be maintained until so recently, and the Headmaster was allowed to retain his position. In an age where matters of Child Protection are (and quite correctly) given such importance, I find it hard to believe that action would not have been taken earlier on. Naturally, discussion of these allegations and events were much discussed by the pupils, and to a certain extent, encouraged and fuelled by many members of staff. If these claims are, or have been, substantiated I will withdraw my words on this.

    On two occasions in 2009-2010, I was approached by parents of pupils at the school, once when I was travelling on a train, and once at an opera in London, and asked to give my view on ‘what’s going on at Purcell.’ Their questions were aggressive, and I realised that some of their comments could not have been made if, for example, their children had not been told (by teachers) about discussions held during staff meetings. In the first instance, I was astounded to hear a parent quoting verbatim some of the discussion from a meeting held just two weeks earlier. In both these incidents, I did not express any opinion, replying simply that I was not aware of the situations to which they referred. On these occasions, the parents seemed to try to incite me into making a statement. My only thought was that if they were so terribly worried about the ‘shocking, shocking’ things that were being allowed to happen at the Purcell School, they should withdraw their children from the School. Now that I am no longer on the staff, and am permitted to have different forms of contact with current and former pupils I am n dismayed to see parents openly discussing the school with pupils and their friends in such a public medium as Facebook. I feel strongly that if their concerns were so great, then a properly organised, coherent submission about their worries would have been more effective than a wide-ranging whispering campaign. Their actions simply made working at the school far more difficult for me and my immediate colleagues.

    A campaign of anonymous, malicious communications sent by various staff members to parents, the press, and the Headmaster were discussed during an Ofsted Inspection in 2009, and also by Child Protection staff from Hertfordshire County Council. The fact that (as far as I know) no action was taken by any of these bodies meant that the agitating staff decided that a conspiracy was occurring. It is obvious that in such conditions, any attempt to create cohesion amongst the staff, or to build a united School would be futile. Laissez-faire prevailed. In the midst of this, academic standards have slipped: from my observation, I maintain this is because many teachers were caught up in the ongoing ‘scandal’ to the detriment of their teaching commitments. During my second year at the school, when I was involved with some teaching, I had grave concerns about the work of two of my students, and approached two senior members of teaching staff to discuss the problem. Their response was ‘Well, what can we expect, when things are so difficult!’ Surely it would be more productive and positive to throw energy into good teaching and high expectations, rather than letting everybody – staff and pupils alike – slip into the mire?

    I am not afraid to state that I believe a number of staff at the school – boarding and academic – are entirely unfit to work in an educational organisation, or to be responsible for the pastoral wellbeing of young people. That so many pupils at the school are from overseas, and therefore suffer from particular forms of stress and anxiety in addition to the usual gamut of adolescent angst, makes me even more concerned, as I saw little effort being made to support their needs. A prevalent attitude seemed to be that they could sink or swim. This is as much a Child Protection issue as the incident referred to in the Watford Observer article.

    I am the first to admit that after long observation, I do not think that Mr Crook was equal to his role as Headmaster – it was a position to which he was unsuited and there were many situations which he handled poorly. This is unfortunate, but it is also the responsibility of those who appointed him. His resignation, in whatever circumstances, was probably inevitable. However, what angers me most intensely about the Purcell School is the fact that there are many other ongoing problems which are not being tackled.

      • Mr Lebrecht – this information supplied by Ms Connor is malicious, largely inaccurate and heavily biased. Please come and visit the Purcell School and you will be able to see for yourself how untrue many of her observations and allegations are. There are many wonderful staff and pupils at the Purcell School, and I know that if you were to see for yourself how everyone is picking up the pieces and restoring the school’s dignity, good name and distinguished academic/musical reputation after the difficulties it has experienced during the past 4 years, you will be moved and impressed. Please do come and see for yourself. This is the only way to find out the truth.

    • Corrina is again absolutely correct. What you have at Purcell is a nasty private school beholden to nobody. The Governors are inactive (three instrumental teachers with 45years teaching at Purcell have never had a governor come to a lesson)!

      There is NO collegiate working. No meetings with instrumental staff – except maybe once a year or so which are mostly unattended as they have a foul atmosphere of being bullied by the Head of Music. There is completely inadequate pastoral care for students who are all aware that they are in a talent auction and may be asked to leave if they are not good enough.

      The school exists on its spectaculars where it cozy’s up with a celebrity – that proving how good the school; must be! Have a look at the schools need of counseling services, physiotherapists and general student turnover to see what is going on.

      The Parent body was suspended for some years – deemed a nuisance in the school.

      The Music School is a fiefdom with no effective scrutiny. You complain at your peril as a teacher or student.

      What fantasy the parent above thinking that the Governors do anything! That Parent’s problem is, as with others, it is hard to conceive just how bad it is, so denial of correct teaching values continues.

      Absolutely the nastiest place I have worked in, or know from others they have worked in – and even now I watch with care every word I say and can’t use numerous examples of hopeless mismanagement as I don’t want to be identified, Corrina is brave and correct. Norman Lebrecht is also correct. Follow the trail of bullying.

      • As a current pupil of the school I fail to see how the Head of Music bullies any teacher working at the school. Although I am a student and do not see what goes on behind the scenes, Mr.Poole is a valued member of staff and cares greatly about the students, and from sources within the teaching body no one seems to have a bad word to say against him. I have never known a more caring teacher whos passion for music is a great asset to the school. I find it highly unfair of you to bring up any other member of staff within this blog, as the person in question was Mr.Crook. These comments are becoming out of hand, there is no need to put into question the Head of Music, nor was there any need for Corrina to doubt Mr.Elliott’s ability. Both these teachers have been here for years, they know all the students and care about everyone. Please stop making an awful situation worse whilst the school is trying to recover from a difficult time, I understand a few of your points concerning pastoral care, but i have been happy here, along with many of my peers. Mr.Crook the only aspect of school life that needed attention. It has been sorted now.

        • If you are a current student at the Purcell school you are unlikely at your age to see and appraise the quality of the staff relationships, the politics, the teaching ethics around you. What can you compare it with in your life? Only when you have your own children will you realize how unusual an atmosphere the Purcell School had and how confused its educational aims were for you.

          Re-read my post about bullying, governors, staff room etc. Read Corrina’s post thoroughly. The solution is not to suggest we are writing rubbish. That tactic was used in every meeting (the few) in which one brought up a problem. Shoot the messenger leads to the troubles the school is now in as nothing is ever sorted – just ignored and repressed!

          If you look at another blog post about the Purcell School you will see exactly how other people are associated with the Headmasters resignation. You are obviously in denial if you think all is sorted.

          Show the blogs to any regular teacher in the state or private sector. You will find that they will be very concerned about your school.

          • I know I am younger and have not experienced as much of life as many of the people who are commenting on these series of articles, however, as a pupil at such a small school we understand more about the situations occuring than many others. We are slap bang in the middle of all these malicious goings on and I have to say, the fact that adults are using this blog to write such comments is becoming rather tedious and more harmful to the students than you might expect. The students at this school are becoming frustrated by you and your other commenters and the morale is becoming lower. I have read Corrinas statement well, infact I was a memeber of the girls house when she was an assistant house parent. She talks of low teaching standards, yet I seem to remember she nearly failed a music A level class as here teaching was not adequate. She was difficult to talk to about ‘teenage angst’ and the girls didnt really relate to her, she was also useless when we needed medical attention e.g headaches, sprained ankles and allergic reactions, ask anyone else who was in that girls house at the time. Therefore, my perspective is alot more relevant than you might think. These malicious teachers she talks about are actually the teachers that care about the pupils the most, who have been fighting to get rid of our sexist, and rather peculiar headmaster for some time. They are all so hurt and tired out by the last years of being accused of malicious conduct. Please, if you have something to say, do not use such a tool as the internet. I am well aware that this school has a long way to go but this blog is not helping situations. We need to start afresh as I am well aware, we are trying to get through the past which was harmful to the Purcell schools reputation. Mr.Crook was a bully, ask any pupil.

  • Wow, as a prospective parent this sort of story throws up a whole host of questions. I have a set of Purcell application forms filled in but not yet posted on my desk for my eleven year old eldest offspring. I think they might remain unposted for a while yet while I cogitate on all this…

    All boarding schools get a certain amount of flack and generate the odd scandal. On the other hand, as a parent one is rather more sensitive about any issue to do with child protection when one is considering a relatively young child. My alarm bells are ringing not so much because of the unproven stories about what went on but because of the fact that the school doesn’t seem to have strong enough management and governance to get to grips with things. The very fact that this carried on, that the school appeared to suffer ongoing dissent bothers me a lot. It is a small school and any problems will permeate down to affecting the pupils pretty quickly.

    Purcell was a great option for us as geographically but for now I think we’ll just let the offspring carry on with the auditions he has been offered by two of the other specialist music schools and see what happens.

    • Oh my goodness. Thank you for posting these comments. I am really quite shocked and will not be applying to send my daughter to this school after all.

    • Prospective parent – what a shame! Don’t let all this e-nonsense influence you. Listen to what former and current pupils are saying. This school is recovering rapidly and will, under Paul Elliott’s experience, wisdom and guidance, soon be back to normal. I am a teacher there and, believe me, it’s a great place for your kids. This sort of things could easily happen to ANY of the specialist music schools. Whenever it does, they deal with it and recover. Purcell is recovering rapidly, and the pupils are all functioning well. Come and see us before you reject us completely. Please!

      • “Don’t let all this e-nonsense influence you”. Easily words but when one is considering the best for one’s own children they almost become patronising. Of course one considers ALL information and one tries to balance things. My original post made the point that I accepted that all schools hit bumps and generate bad PR and I described the allegations as unproven. My post was not about throwing my hands in the air and saying “oh woe, allegations on the internet about inappropriate behaviour, I wouldn’t touch the place with a bargepole”.

        You suggest that I “Listen to what former and current pupils are saying”. From what I can see they are highlighting exactly the point that I deemed to be my main concern, i.e. that the school had some issues and that there was not the management and governance to deal with these promptly and effectively and that the issues persisted for some considerable time as a result.

        The application forms are still on my desk unposted and I’m still pondering the best way forwards but I have to say that the more I read of what those “former and current pupils” that you suggest I listen to have to say, the LESS inclined to post them I am becoming. Ho hum, the joys of being a parent I suppose and I’m sure that whatever decision I make will work out for the best in the end.

  • Wow what comments.

    Im a parent of a former pupil….

    I can say I have a first hand experienced bullying by Mr Crooke and worse my child was used to oust certain teachers in the school…..Initially I was drawn into this situation and foolishly believed that the Head would sort this situation out……

    How wrong I was……I quickly realised that the initial situation was really nothing to do with the actual real reason for this situation..

    Yes the head master was deeply unprofessional and uncaring….

    For the prospective parent…….It is a great school…..and hopefully now that HE has gone it will get back to the days when it was run as more friendly caring environment.

    My child has thrived at Purcell and I never regret sending her there because of the Love and Support of many of the teacners and pastorat staff……

    And lastly ..its not a private school….its a school whose ethos is if your talented you and go there regardless of your financial status…..and perhaps this is what needs to remain uppermost in all our minds…

  • As a current pupil, I can full-heartedly confirm that Mr Crook was unprofessional from first hand experience and was the most uncaring and unsupportive teacher I have ever come across, so for anyone to say that he did nothing wrong is totally out of order, even Corinna Connor, as she obviously is not up to date with the goings-on which have taken place. These are not rumours, there is concrete evidence against him. Why nothing was done about it earlier, I have no idea. Now he is gone, the school can work towards fixing minor problems there may be without the corrupt and rigid ways of Mr Crook.

  • Mr Elliott is an excellent choice and he is loyal, trustworthy and humane. In a specialist school the relationships are always blurred between teachers and pupils. I believe Mr Elliott has already made huge differences. The staff at the Purcell school are dedicated and well meaning. Not every teacher is brilliantly able, but there are fantastic teachers amongst them. For the sake of our kids, let’s move on from Mr Crook. The kids are amazing, let them be happy there and stop digging up the dirt. There is no such thing as a perfect world, and any other music school has issues. Anorexia, self harming, bullying and sexual abuse are risks of any close knit environment. The pressure the kids are under is often from their parents, not the school. Despite issues I have had with the school, I think it is a brilliant place.

  • There shouldnt have to be risks of ”Anorexia, self harming, bullying and sexual abuse” in a close knit enviroment. The close knit environment at Purcel should have an ethos that isnt just about talent and excellance, but is also about being caring, happy and secure. I hope now Mr Crook is gone and of course Tom smith, we can start to build a happier place

  • As a past pupil, I can say with utter confidence that 99% of the pupils who finish their education at Purcell will be eternally grateful for it. The Purcell School is not made up of teachers and governers, it is a community of fantastic musicians, whose main perogative is to improve on their instrument. Because of the close knit community, this means that all pupils are inspired by one another, and the standard reached by the majority of pupils in sixth form exceeds the standards of most at music college. In fact I would go as far to say, as the musicians I met in my time at the school, are the most talented I have ever met. Young musicians and parents alike do not choose to attend the school to hear of all of the rumours about teaching staff and the governance of the school, but to simply improve their musicianship. For this reason, it is an excellent school. The less the pupils hear about the shenanigans going on above them, the more they can concentrate on music, so please leave Paul Elliott to do his job so all these pointless rumours can stop.

  • These are not pointless rumours. I agree that ‘There shouldnt have to be risks of ”Anorexia, self harming, bullying and sexual abuse” in a close knit enviroment.’ I do not like to gossip about my colleagues and my pupils but there a lots of problems at the purcell school. I am an instrumental teacher at the purcell school and I have worked at the school for about a decade now. My pupils are a delight. It has not been easy working at the school. The last three years have been very difficult and my pupils have expressed unhappiness about the school. BUT they have not just been unhappy about the headmaster. There have been many other crises involving bullying, depression, alcohol in the boarding houses and their school work. I have a respect for my pupils but I know that teenagers sometimes get carried away with grievances so I take some things with a pinch of salt. Other things I don’t take with salt and when I have tried to bring my worries about my pupils to the headmaster or the deputy headmaster I have hit a brick wall. They have told me that I do not have the full picture. If I don’t have the full picture I would like to have it! There should not be secrecy. Then I can help my pupils. In a little school like the purcell school we should all be informed. This was going on before Peter Crook arrived.
    The other problem that I see at the purcell school is that the policies for bullying and for managing the misdemeanours of pupils are not followed. I often read the handbook for the staff and I see that what is on paper is not what happens in reality. There is blurriness about what should be done & what is done. There is no structure. I know that children and teenagers need a structure to help them with their work and their practise…..they need to have boundaries and they need repercussions for bad behaviour. Different teachers tell their classes different things. I have heard this myself. I am surprised by what some pupils have said in their comments in this conversation. They think they know everything that go on in the school but there are things they don’t know. To me, what Corinne said is bbang on the money. Also I think she has made her points well because she has avoided being abusive. I am surprised that many parents and many pupils have been abusive. It does not put you in a good light!

    Parents also do not know everything that happens. They hear what the children tell them and sometimes they should also take a pinch of salt. Corinne was very helpful with my pupil who was not making progress, and helped him a lot with his practising. A pupil in her boarding house said many good thing s about her and said she was like a very fair aunt. This is good in a boarding school. She is a very professional musician and a very good person and I would like to meet her again. I agree with everything she has said here. I am impressed that she put her name on her comment. I would like to do this as well.

  • I agree also with InstrumentalTeacher.

    Any parent with a child at the Purcell School would expect the following to happen in the instrumental teaching at a specialist music school:

    Regular meetings between HoDs (Heads of Departments) and academic and instrumental teachers about the progress of their child.
    An internal music examination system that has the approval and design from the teachers that teach it and is regularly reviewed.
    Instrumental teachers used in auditions to the school.
    Discussion of orchestra placement of students with teachers.
    Discussion of chamber music provision with teachers.
    Use by the school of its instrumental teachers in orchestral and chamber music teaching – not solely the HoDs.
    Discussion of the state and availability of school pianos and other shared instruments.
    Discussion of the choice of masterclass events and tutors (or their very existence).
    Regular discussions between all the teachers of their instrumental discipline.
    Review of how much appropriate concert provision for students.
    Discussion of physiotherapy provision.
    How to use the Alexander teachers.
    Discussion of counseling provision.
    Discussion of stress signs.
    Discussion of SEN (Special Educational Needs).
    Discussion of practice provision each day for the students – that they have some practice time in the days timetable (sic)!

    None of the above happens. All the above list is drawn from examples of it not happening with my and my colleagues students. Nothing is inclusive and collegiate in the teaching management – except when there is a problem when there may be some discussion – which of course is after the event. The instrumental teachers are not in the loop – they are regarded as a nuisance – yet they know the students the best as they usually have two hours alone with them each week.

    There are no points of contact with the academic teachers, except over lunch which is eaten within earshot of the children – and no contact in the staff room which is mostly empty. They don’t know instrumental teachers who have been teaching a decade at the school, nor could they with no effective contact. If the academic staff are having problems with a student we only know by some accident – maybe the student tells us. `If there is any problem with behavior – the same. As for re-audition, the first I knew about it was being told it was going to happen to a student of mine. Corrina is accurate in the picture she paints.

    This is a specialist music school where these things are supposed to be really organized, indeed especially good. They aren’t. They are especially bad. There is no discussion and no collegiate teaching. All the instrumental teachers come in and go out – hoping not to get involved in the nasty atmosphere.

    What is listed above is the need for a professional approach to instrumental music teaching. All these problems have not happened overnight, they have been happening at the Purcell school for years – before Mr Crook had the pleasure of being the Headmaster, as well as when he was.

    What to do?

    Firstly a complete revamp of the Governors. Out with the celebrities (thanks very much, but we need people with time) and in with more senior professional secondary school specialists, fewer good and great of the senior colleges who have a day job which takes all their time (running the RCM, RAM etc) and in with some musicians who went to specialist music schools who are well aware of the problems. Then make sure they come to the school, wander round, go into all lessons and ask questions! Active governors – like in a state school!

    Appoint a Headmaster who has an exemplary teaching record and a high understanding of music. but is primarily a school teacher with an understanding of team building for staff and pastoral care for children. Make him the boss, then back him if he sacks someone deemed unsuitable.

    Bring in team building specialists to deal with the broken down relationships across the school departments.

    Then maybe all the troubles of the last ten years will start to dwindle and this blog will be redundant.

  • “There is no such thing as a perfect world, and any other music school has issues. Anorexia, self harming, bullying and sexual abuse are risks of any close knit environment. The pressure the kids are under is often from their parents, not the school.”
    How complacent should we be? At what point does the bad outweigh the good? As the parent of a child at another specialist music school (Chets) many of the comments in this thread although prompted by the debacle at Purcell chime with my experiences.
    Nevertheless I think specialist music schools get away with a degree of abuse, pastoral neglect and mismanagement that they might not otherwise because (1) people are dazzled by the outstanding success – often fleeting – of individuals at the school (2) the idea that unquestioningly suffering abuse from a maestro is inevitable, character-building, what all great musicians go through etc has not been discredited in conservatoires and music schools, as it has in other institutions and areas of education.

  • From a longstanding parent’s perspective:

    Although I can’t comment on the staff details as I am not immersed as a member of staff, it is true that staff issues at this school have been difficult for many years – there has been a huge hole where strong, positive headship and organisation should have been. It is a monumental job to run an academic school where the results are generally very good AND a top-level specialist music school AND a good boarding school where gifted pupils come from all over the world. I am unsure how such a complex working situation can thrive without astounding leadership and I am not surprised there were difficulties amongst the staff when good leadership was missing. I suspect the departure of Peter Crook in itself will be the single most helpful unifying element for the five+ years I’ve been a parent here.

    I have a great deal of respect for Paul Elliott and his ability to take the school forward in this post Peter-Crook era whilst we await a new head. Paul has a fabulous record at the school and has always responded sensitively to concerns. In the month since he was appointed Acting Head he has already made changes which are a breath of fresh air, changes which are extremely welcome to parents and pupils alike. I’m sure I speak for many parents in saying he has my wholehearted and enthusiastic support. I know for certain the pupils are RIGHT BEHIND HIM and are enthusiastic about the future.

    Ms Connor, whilst I agree with the issues of historical staff discord, and poor pastoral care, I am saddened to read what you say as it seems such a limited, bitter and personal view of the issues the school faces – it also seems to ignore some of the major issues entirely. This is a pity as you could have offered a helpful personal perspective as to how to take the school forward – your intent seems to damage rather than support. I find myself wondering why.

    Anyone who heard the full recorded tape of the ‘lesson’ which took place at Peter Crooks house at 9pm one night cannot help but be profoundly disturbed by its contents. Parents who heard this were distressed and deeply worried. Somehow, I know not how, the matter was not carried forward as it should have been. A head of governors, since resigned, sent letters to parents which were (in my opinion) extremely manipulative of the situation in the head’s favour. Most parents were unable to do anything because:
    a) they FEARED THEIR CHILD’S PLACE AT THE SCHOOL WOULD BE LOST – especially those receiving scholarships (the majority of the school, I understand). I am saddened that some fee-paying parents chose to do nothing in this situation.
    b) they feared the tabloids would be all over the situation (believe me, they WOULD have been!) and the reputation of the school would be utterly destroyed
    In a state school, matters would have been dealt with *dramatically* differently. My late father, then head of governors at a major state school was incandescent with rage at the way the situation was handled at the time.

    The appalling bullying of staff and pupils by Mr Crook is legendary. Staff lived in an atmosphere of fear, as did pupils and parents. Even parents feared to talk to each other or comment on Facebook. My own experiences with Mr Crook requesting changes were miserable and met with a frightening authoritarian response. In the early days of his reign, he was able to get rid of those he considered troublesome pupils (for example, those who had the misfortune to suffer a mental health problem) without challenge. I was one of those parents who eventually challenged this and I was strongly warned that I would eventually pay for this insult to his regime. I did – within a year one of my own daughters (who has an exemplary musical and academic record at the school) was suspended on rather spurious grounds.

    I note that a past staff member has drawn attention to the departure of Ian MacMillan – this person clearly has no real insight into what has been happening at the school in recent years, and especially in the past months. Ian was a highly valued member of staff and a truly inspirational and respected choir master. His departure was part of a highly personal and very seriously abusive campaign against a very senior member of the music staff by that was visible even to parents. Please check your facts before you make comments which lead people away from the true heart of the issues here.

    To prospective parents, I couldn’t recommend the school more highly – despite all this! remember, these things are now in the past.

    To those that say people are only speaking from one perspective is really quite insulting and narrow. It is really naive to imagine that there is a simple unidirectional line of communication (pupil>parent, staff>instrumental teacher, for example). Most UK parents are in the loop using information from a wide variety of sources both within the school and externally. Some of it may be rumour but most of us are intelligent enough to see the wood for the trees – pupils too.

    As a committed parent, I’m looking forward to the new atmosphere of increased transparency and parental involvement within the school and welcome joint initiatives with certain stalwart parents to bring us together from across the world electronically.

    Throughout all this, my two children have been extremely positive about The Purcell School and very clear about where fault has lain. My children love being there and cannot imagine being anywhere else – they will cry their hearts out, along with many, many of their classmates, when they are forced to leave by virtue of being 18 and having finished their education.

    Pupils have been incredibly united by the adversity of the past years and it is clear from recent weeks that this blitz mentality will bear fruit among staff and pupils in taking this very special school forward. Hopefully staff will settle, pupils will settle and people will all be behind Paul Elliott in his new role. His fantastic personal and professional record gives the school a fabulous head start in its recovery.

    I wish this school every possible success and am looking forward to making positive contributions to help Purcell leave these past few years behind it. I am proud to be a Purcell parent, and will always be deeply grateful to the school for giving my children a very special education unavailable anywhere else. My children – and indeed myself – would have been very different (and diminished) people without it.

    (a slightly shorter version of this comment appears on: https://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2011/10/head-of-music-school-resigns-no-comment.html#comment-7760)

  • I too am a prospective parent and the one thing that was putting me off sending my child to Purcell was the headmaster. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I just didn’t like him. Maybe he was suffering from stress with everything that was going on – who knows.

    I agree with a current pupil that the school needs to get on track and that the children should be thought about before more posts are wirtten. It is an unusual environment, parents are unsure if it’s a sensible route to go down and these comments do not help the children. It’s very easy to claim sour grapes afterwards but where was the action from these agrieved teachers and parents at the time?

    Now I will keep a closer eye on things but Purcell is full of pushy parents who take more of an active interest than most parents. I suspect all these things go on at all schools but the average parent is not as precious and more pragmatic.

  • In reply to prospective parent – please read all the posts on this and the parallel thread.
    You will read that parents were also bullied at the Purcell, and very often, parents will be afraid to complain in case the complaint is taken out on their child, or leads to their child somehow being squeezed out.
    Moreover these schools are adept at playing the expert card when talking to parents – even ones with a musical training. Many parents I know really do think the school knows best when it comes to the musical education of their child.
    There is also a tendency for a certain collusion to take place between pushy parents and a school when both have a heavy investment in the child “performing”. In music schools, this means it is more – not less – likely that other concerns – social, emotional, academic – are sidelined if the child is deemed to be a star player.
    There ARE parents who take the kind of interest in the welfare of their child you imagine which involve holding the school to account. But it is constant, exhausting and thankless work.
    As the mother of children at Chets, I remain deeply unsure if specialist music schools as they currently exist in the UK are the best place for a child if that child could otherwise attend a decent local school, a good junior department at a conservatoire and access suitable instrumental tuition.

  • Dear Jane Marshall,
    I really don’t want to get involved with the topic of the Purcell School, as I know little about the situation, even after reading numerous posts on the subject.
    However, as you mentioned you are a mother of children at Chets, I must ask you what you meant by the last paragraph of your comment above.
    “I remain deeply unsure if specialist music schools as they currently exist in the UK are the best place for a child if that child could otherwise attend a decent local school, a good junior department at a conservatoire and access suitable instrumental tuition.”

    The point of any specialist school is to provide a specialist education in a certain subject.
    A specialist music school is meant to provide the BEST teaching in that subject, not, “a good junior department at a conservatoire”, so that the child can go on to make a career in that subject.

    If any child would be removed from a specialist music school, in exchange for a “decent local school, a good junior department, etc” is like taking out a highly talented motivated 14 year old footballer from the Manchester United junior academy and sending him to a normal school, but “he can go to the local football team for the Saturday training session, they are good too”.

    If you want a specialist education, and you are sure your child wants to make a profession in music and wants to live breath and play music 24/7, send your child to a specialist school – if you don’t, and you don’t feel it is healthy, then don’t send your children there!

    I have many friends that have not been to specialist music schools and their career has not been either hindered or helped. I attended the Yehudi Menuhin School, and I did have many questions over the academic teaching during my time there. However, I survived – GSCE’s (a few A-stars, mostly A’s, a B and a C) and A-levels (with 2 A’s and a B), purely by motivating myself to buy revision guides etc., and learning the subjects myself. Why did I put up with the poor academic teaching? Because I went to the Menuhin School for a fantastic musical education, of which I received.

    I do agree that a rounded education is important, however it leaves me a little upset over your comments – comments raised by parents along these lines specialist schools under enormous pressure to change nowadays to just normal schools with a good music department.

    • Dear ex-pupil,
      I am sure that there are many people who attend, or have attended, specialist music schools who would agree with you that they are receiving the best teaching in their subject. That was certainly one reason we picked Chets.
      However, as I have learnt to my children’s cost, you cannot rely on being at a specialist music school as a means of receiving the best teaching – it is very far from automatic,
      Some of the “best” teachers choose not to teach at specialist music schools because they do not like the regime, especially if as at Purcell bullying is rife or they are uncomfortable about other pastoral or musical issues for example.
      By no means are all the instrumental teachers at specialist music schools the best. There is a certain amount of dead wood, and teachers who need their timetables filling up to make up the hours often take precedence over the particular needs of individual students. Moreover even where teachers are deemed to be the best – usually because they are seen to be “star makers” – the methods adopted by these teachers can be brutal, even abusive. The students who fall foul of such a regime tend to blame themselves and fade away quietly, but it is clear to anyone engaged in pedagogy outside the musical world that this is far from the full story. My concern is really with the management of specialist music schools who know full well that such abuse goes on but- anxious to protect their school’s image and so long as the odd star makes it through – prefer to ignore it.
      The vast majority of the “best” teachers at specialist music schools also teach at the JDs of conservatoires – especially in London and Manchester – and of course JDs also contain some outstanding teachers who don’t teach at the specialist music schools.
      As you say, plenty of people who don’t go to specialist music schools make good careers in music – it is absolutely not the sine qua non. On the other hand, it’s a lot harder to make a career doing anything else after you’ve been to a specialist music school if your academic education has been limited and sub-standard, and you feel (for whatever reason) that you’re not good enough to make it as a performer.

  • I joined the Sixth Form this term, and whilst I had heard about the internal politics at the school, I couldn’t be fully prepared for the reality of the situation until I arrived.

    Having come from a large comprehensive school with its fair share of troublesome students, one of the first things that struck me was how easy it was to get on with the other students; in other words, I haven’t noticed any of the ‘bullying’ amongst students which InstrumentalTeacher refers to.

    Mr Poole (whose title is actually ‘Director of Music’, Past Teacher – did you say you’ve worked at the school?) is an incredibly experienced musician and a very friendly person, too: i.e. perfectly suited to his job. He has also had to cope with working in a position of great responsibility in circumstances that can only be described as an autocratic dictatorship, with Peter Crook at the fore.

    Whilst I didn’t know Mr Crook for very long – and I can’t say that I knew him that well – I didn’t like him from the outset. At my audition, he decided to pitch up (probably because I was an organ candidate) – fair enough. Since he is ‘supposed to be’ an organist himself, I would have thought that he would have contributed quite significantly to proceedings; however, he just seemed like a spare part – bizarre. His knowledge of music is also very limited. He covered a harmony lesson for Mrs Francis (a brilliant teacher, whom he also bullied), and I was stunned by how little he actually knew about harmony. I could harmonise a Bach chorale better than he could (and that is not a young person’s arrogance, I promise).

    On more than one occasion, Mr Crook walked up to me whilst I was practising, and started quizzing me about what I was playing, and about me generally, in a leering way. He was known to have organised people to play in his office for him, only to end up ask them questions such as ‘Have you started tossing off yet?’

    I obviously cannot comment on issues before Mr Crook – and also admit that things at the school are still uncertain – but I can state quite resolutely that the atmosphere is much more positive, that Mr Elliott is doing an outstanding job as Acting Head, and that the school is moving assuredly forward after a difficult chapter in its history.

    It is incredibly unhelpful for former members of staff to post wholly unprofessional comments on here. Despite the turbulent events of recent weeks, the school is providing me with adequate musical, academic and pastoral support, and I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. Prospective students/parents, do not be deterred: Purcell is somewhere where young musicians have the opportunity to flourish, and they can now continue to do this in an environment without a tyrannical, incompetent and, quite frankly, odd man dragging its name through the mud.

  • Can we please have a quick reminder of what exactly Mr Crook did to spark this scandal? The “bullying” etc. gets mentioned repeatedly, but I would like to know specifically what happened.
    Thanks

    • For those bloggers above who think that the Purcell Schools problems are recent let me assure you that they have built up over time. All what followed happened at the beginning of Peter Crook’s Headmastership, so he is not to blame for everything – and it would be a distraction to think so.

      Having taught at the school for many years, we started asking the school why we were not being paid holiday pay, as other teachers received elsewhere. No answers were given to our questions so after a few years I along with some colleagues asked the Musician’s Union (MU) to ask the school the same question.

      The school replied to the MU that it did not recognize anybody as representing it’s teachers and that since the start of the law (some 6-7 years previous) they had included holiday pay in the hourly teaching rate (specifically disallowed in the Act). When the MU pointed out that it had a complete set of pay slips from a teacher covering the year in question when the school said that it started to pay holiday pay – showing no changes, the school then agreed to pay holiday pay, though not backdating the pay (worth a complete month each year) and not apologizing to the sixty or so teachers for having against the law underpaid them!

      Shortly after that we asked for a statement of the ‘terms and conditions of our employment’ (the law says you should receive this within 8 weeks of being employed) as nobody had a contract (many people have taught over 20 years there).

      We then received a contract, described as nonnegotiable, detailing our employment. This was duly shown to ISM and MU lawyers who amended it and then the school agreed it. What the contract showed was that the school had not told its employees that they had been entitled to Pension contributions since the early 1990’s (that reduced a senior teacher to tears) and the way they had been paying sick pay had been faulty. No apology offered by the school.

      At the same time I remember, but I could be wrong, that the Academic teachers were in uproar over a salary increment which which they were owed for some time (over a year) which the school simply was not paying.

      I paid the price for my activities and a year later my cello class was composed of all but one second study pupils or near equivalents. I had up to this point (some 14/5 years) not taught any second study.

      Of course I only did one cello audition, (at the last minute), two cello sectionals and no chamber music in my time at the school.

      I concur with the opinions of some of the past teachers and present teachers at the school about the atmosphere.

  • If the school (ie governors) had been open and honest with parents, teachers and students, this site would not have erupted. In fact a culture of openness and honesty – in which the people at the top take responsibility for their actions – would have prevented a great deal of the misconduct and unhappiness that the School has seen over the past few years. Still the governors are silent and hoping this will all go away. Not a way to create trust or rebuild a community.

  • The financial machinations over pay and conditions were only a part of the malaise at the school. The headmaster’s conduct in addressing a group of pupils in the late evening when they had got ready to go to bed is at the heart of much of the anguish felt by so many parents. This session was recorded on a mobile telephone by one quick witted pupil which allowed a far wider audience to hear the headmaster give advice to his pupils on, amongst other similar matters, how to measure the size of their penises and how important it is to measure from the correct point under the scrotum. Hard to believe unless you have heard the actual recording and impossible to understand why it took more that two years for the school governors, who were very soon afterwards made fully aware of the contents of the recording, sto take any action.

    • Why didn’t the authorities do anything? Why haven’t the governors resigned? This looks like incontrovertible evidence. Where is the accountability? It would be a huge mistake to think because that because Crook has gone everything will be all right. If lessons aren’t learnt, pastoral neglect will continue, abuse will occur and it will be hushed up “for the sake of the school … for the sake of the children”.

  • I am afraid the list of wrongdoings of this deeply unpleasant man will only get longer as more people feel able to come out of the woodwork and vent the anger that has simmered away for so long. My child also came directly into the firing line soon after Peter Crook was appointed, and he made all our lives very miserable in the vindictive and cruel way he exercised his power. I have been told of many instances of completely inappropriate sexual language being used to pupils, especially boys, and indeed incitement to sexual activity, but unfortunately these were always behind closed doors, to one pupil at a time, so that it would be his word against theirs if anyone reported it. I agree with those who have said that there was a campaign to try to remove him, but who can be surprised when evidence as solid as the previously mentioned tape, which I too was shocked by, was brushed under the carpet by all the authorities who heard it. Why? As for those who are saying, if it was so bad , why did you allow your child to stay there; I think my answer would be the same as for many, despite the many problems, and the dreadfully unfair treatment from Peter Crook, my child loved the school and would have been heartbroken to be moved, and we had nothing but praise for all the music and most of the academic staff. We did have serious concerns about the pastoral care however.

  • As a current teacher I ask everyone now to try and put your faith and trust in Paul Elliott. A lovely man who knows the school inside out and cares deeply about it. We could not have a better headmaster. The school will be amazing. Come on all you prospective parents! Get those applications in the post!

    • There are always two conflicting responses when things go wrong in schools.
      One is to play the thing down, cover it up, put it behind us etc because otherwise who knows where it might end, good people will be hurt, the bad publicity will irreparably harm the school etc.
      The other response is to be open (in a humble non-authoritarian way), to treat pupils, teachers and parents as grown-ups and give them the information they are seeking, to hold all those responsible to account, to have faith that the good people – the pupils, teachers and parents who are at the school for the right reasons – will not be driven away, to involve everyone in developing new policies and procedures, and building a culture in which individuals are genuinely listened to (whether they are pupils, teachers or parents) and pastoral care is a real priority for everyone. Only the latter course will allow the Purcell (or any school for that matter) to be as amazing as it can be. Do the governors have the courage to follow this course?

  • Jane, thank you for your sensible, rational suggestion. I think that what you recommend WILL eventually have to be addressed by the governing body, but it won’t happen immediately. The school just needs to settle down and get on for the time being. People are so tired of conflict.

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