Sex-bullying school seeks soft publicity

Sex-bullying school seeks soft publicity


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2012

I’ve received a smarmy approach from a PR flak, previously unknown to me, asking for favourable coverage of a Royal fundraiser for the Purcell School.

It goes so far as to offer interviews with the governors – those same governors who have refused to say a word about the sudden departure of the headmaster four months ago. I’m guessing they have no more to say about it now. Until the school comes clean, I cannot see there is much to celebrate for its 50th birthday. Here is the back story, untouched by Britain’s national press. PR letter follows.


Dear Norman,

I hope you are well.

I would like to bring a forthcoming event to your attention. Please find attached a release promoting a forthcoming concert at the Royal Festival Hall, to support Purcell School for Young Musician’s 50th anniversary. HRH Prince Charles is a patron of the school and is a staunch supporter of the school and of the event.

Directed by internationally acclaimed conductor, Paul Daniel, the concert will feature a lineup of famous alumni soloists from the Purcell School of Music including Robert Cohen celloNicholas Daniel oboeJack Liebeck violin, Catrin Finch harpTim Thorpe horn and Jianing Kong piano, accompanied by talented young musicians  in the Purcell School Symphony Orchestra.

The school was founded in 1962 by Rosemary Rapaport and Irene Foster with the aim to become the first specialist music school of its kind. It has gone on to become just that; nurturing young musicians in an environment where they can develop their musical, academic and social skills with like minded youngsters. They presently house 180 talented musicians in their Hertfordshire site which is both a boarding and day school and takes students on by audition, based on talent, regardless of background and experience. The school remains predominantly funded by the Government’s Music and Dance Scheme with its own scholarship fund which ensures all pupils join the school on the strength of their musical potential irrespective of the parents’ ability to pay.

Some of the successful alumni and governors who are taking part in the event are happy to be interviewed to support the event (i.e. composer Stephen Endleman, governor and ex pupil Janice Woolley), please let me know if this is of interest to you.

We would love to invite you to the event with a view to writing a review. It will be held on the 19th March at The Royal Festival Hall. Please let me know if you are available to attend.

Do not hesitate to let me know if you have any queries. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,

Audrey Lenihan


  • Thomas P says:

    Poor Audrey. I guess Sparkle PR doesn’t read a certain music blog.

  • henry purcell says:

    Sparkle is hardly the ideal PR company to be employed by the misinformed ignorant Governors and Bursar, who are throwing a wasteful amount of school money to a company who have hardly any arts PR credibility, and seem more experienced at working with Durex and women’s cosmetics PR, if their difficult to read, dull website is anything to go by.

    Audrey really ought to get her facts absolutely correct too, when sending out a Press Release.
    Surely governor and ex pupil Janice Woolley is rather better known in the music profession as Janice Graham- the distinguished leader of ENO and not Mrs Woolley the housewife?

  • Peter de Bruxelles says:

    Why haven’t the national press followed up this story? Even if it turned out there was no story – or less of a story than the posts on this site suggest – that would be a story in itself. A brief report (containing nothing new) appeared in the Strad just before Xmas.
    Have journalists been warned off somehow?

    • henry purcell says:

      The Watford Observer were silenced by Governors when it became known that the Head had been investigated twice by Watford Police and Hertfordshire Social Services, for allegations with boys two years ago, even though a recording of the inappropriate lewd conversations he had with them was widely circulated then.
      The Times carried a brief hint about The Head’s mystery ‘resignation’ last October, and The Daily Mail were poised to carry a more fuller, truthful story in November, but that too was sadly pulled the day before print, when again, the Governors seem to have intervened and quashed it.
      One has to only look at the list of Governors on the school website to see the distinguished QC, The Hon Mark Bridges, (also a QC to Her Majesty The Queen), is one of them, for possible conclusions to be drawn as to why the press may have been rather tacet about freely reporting the unacceptable goings on at the school these last few years when HRH Prince Charles is their Royal Patron.
      Makes you wonder what else the Governors have to hide about why they allowed a Headmaster to carry on working at the school following two serious investigations, even though it was understood at the time, the allegations were unfounded??

      • Jane Marshall says:

        Thank you for the information, This indicates that the problems at the school start at the very top. Thank goodness for this blog – if only all prospective parents, applicants, supporters et of the school would read it. Ignoring valid questions from parents, scaring off the press and carrying on regardless while employing a PR company to puff the school – these actions show a contempt and arrogance which is hard to credit. It’s high time the DfE who ultimately hold the purse strings stepped in and demanded some accountability.

  • henry purcell says:

    Those who try to work at the school couldn’t agree more with you Jane!

    The contempt and arrogance to which you refer, has been experienced for far too many years by governors, and Bursar, Aideen McNamara, who still adopt management bullying policies in the school to the dismay and concern of many current staff.

    The mistrust and lack of respect towards those who claim to govern the school is ongoing, (and they are just about to appoint a new Head, having appointed a disaster last time) and the arrogant lack of care and concern by the governors towards staff is seriously alarming and disgraceful.

    The grave mistake they made initially, was appointing an inexperienced second choice candidate ( a dismissed former Director of Music at Rugby School), and then ridiculing those staff who were brave enough to speak out against the unacceptable lewd behavior of him two years ago, following the two investigations by police and social services.

    To then instruct staff to ‘forgive and forget’ because the allegations were ‘unfounded’ and allow this man to go on working at the school when they should have dismissed him then, was just irresponsible.

    How stupid therefore for current Chairman of the Governor’s, Roy Cervenka, to write to parents last November stating ‘ the governors had hoped that over time, tensions would fade. unfortunately, they did not’

    In reality, to be informed that allegations were unfounded means in Social Services ‘speak’ that, although there wasn’t sufficient quality evidence at the time, he certainly wasn’t completely exonerated.

    Because the Purcell School is an independent school, (albeit Government funded), they handed the ‘matter’ back to the governors to decide what to do.

    Foolishly, they allowed the Head to continue at the school, disbelieving the staff and boys who were brave enough to speak out against his sordid reported and well known behavior.

    Three months on, the governors still refuse to apologise or take responsibility for their mistakes, preferring instead to blame outspoken staff for the Head’s demise.

    Until they do so by hopefully resigning in shame themselves, new Headmaster or not, the damaged and unhappy school, will simply not recover.

  • Past Teacher says:

    The 50th anniversary is interesting time for the school. Seems like the President of the School is not doing very much in the anniversary year with the students. Can it be that his friends and colleagues have told him what is going on? Did not Simon Rattle go to the RAM at the same time as many damaged students emerged from the Yehudi Menuhin School.

    Henry Purcell and Peter de Bruxelles highlight a long tradition of poor and hugely arrogant management which has been endemic in the five specialist music schools since they were started in the 60’s.

    I taught at one of the five – not Purcell, where two thirds of the entire visiting music staff resigned and left in the year after the appointment of a particularly poor Head of Music. He even sacked the teacher who has had a Concert Hall named after her at the RCM!

  • Selina Stagg says:

    At the Purcell School, those of us who still bother to read this are rapidly getting bored

    The school is thriving under Paul Elliott’s sane and generous guidance, work continues as usual, lots of people are applying to the school, pupils are happy and we’re all looking forward to the glittering 50th Anniversary events!

    I won’t be back on this site – goodnight, and goodbye.

    • Past Teacher says:

      Sounds like Selina was unaware of the long history of these sorts of troubles in the specialist music schools.

      Those of us who have taught at these places for many years have done so in the hope of helping avoid the cyclical meltdowns that happen. Our hindsight comes from watching these events happen over and over again, despite our efforts. Hiring PR is not going to sort this out.

      What is needed is a triumph of professional educational values over individual fiefdoms in these schools. Collegiate, encouraging, respectful and resourceful treatment of the staff would work wonders. Paul Elliott is well placed to deliver that for the Academic Staff.

      Maybe then the staff room wont be mostly empty at break times!

  • henry purcell says:

    Selina Slagg seems to be as deluded as the Governors, if he claims the school is so thriving and happy since the departure of the disgraced Headmaster four months ago.

    It may well be that the acting Headmaster is doing his best to bring some normality to the disruptive and damaging Peter Crook regime over the last four years by dealing with the mess left behind by his sudden departure.

    However, as Selina should also know, Mr Elliotts admirable efforts are only temporary,
    as when the Governors appoint a new head next month, the current calming period will be over,
    and it will be business as usual.
    (ie the ongoing breakdown of a harmonious relationship between staff and governors who seek to punish any criticism of their governance).

    I agree with Norman Lebrecht and his statement at the start of this blog –
    How can anyone hope to celebrate a fiftieth anniversary of the school after recent events which has brought the school’s reputation into serious disrepute in both the musical and educational worlds?

    Of course pupils from all over the world are going to continue applying to board at the school – but how many of them remain ignorant to the sad reputation and stigma this music school has as a result of the mismanagement by governors and behavior of a disgraced headmaster?

    Maybe such prospective parents should read this blog, or speak to any professional musician working in London, or past pupils and those brave parents who confronted Peter Crook and the Governors over so many issues at the time, and who all met with such staggering contempt and ridicule for expressing their concerns over so much that remains wrong at the school?

    Before Selina can honestly state that the pupils are happy, he would do well to speak with any current pupil at the school about their unhappiness over ongoing boarding issues – including the early hours of the morning lateness of pupils settling down for much needed refreshing sleep; the quality and quantity of school meals resulting in far too many unhealthy takeaways being delivered in lieu of nourishing, sustaining food;
    the care and welfare of pupils out of teaching hours, and in some cases, the quality and accuracy of some
    classroom music teaching.

    Those who care about the future of the school, would do well to deal with these ongoing concerns rather than adopt the attitude of the governors and pretend such issues don’t exist or attempt to cover them up.

    • Mr Smith says:

      Dear Norman ,
      I have been reading this blog with some what dismay ??? It seems that part of the truth is being told, but not the whole truth.

      The main problem within the school is there is NO Support and NO leadership from the Headmaster, Senior Management or govenors. I see some write what a good job the head is doing but there are groups of staff who are so low and in dismay of what he turns a blind eye to. The reason the students are ‘so happy’ as one blogger puts it, is due to the fact they are effectively ruling the school. There is NO discipline and when staff try to enforce it they are not supported – decisions are made and then reversed if a parent complains, and that is if a decision to discipline is taken at all! Don’t even ask what happens if the parent of the child who requires disciplining is a govenor of the school! There are students who refuse to get up in the morning and then stay up all night disturbing others. There are incidents of bullying that are not dealt with and potential child protection issues that are not followed up by senior staff. Pastoral care is a joke. There is currently one house parent on maternity leave leaving only one junior member of staff in residencee and the houseparents of another boarding house are living offsite due to rennovation works leaving another junior member of staff as sole resident – and this according to senior management and the head of pastoral care inparticular is acceptable it seems??? Many of the staff at the school are praying for an Ofsted inspection, although what good it will be is unknown as many of these problems were reported to them on their last inspection, for the school still to get a satisfactory grading – it’s a joke! I support the school 100% but when staff who have the pupils welfare and best interests at heart are continually ignored and ridiculed for raising issues it makes life very hard.
      With regards to the PR company – let’s just say that due to the monumental cock up that was made by senior members of the school in publicising the former heads’ exit, is it any wonder they have to pay someone to take on the role of advertising and marketing for this upcoming event – they can not afford to do anything else wrong – but unless they address the serious lack of managerial skills and decision making they will continue to make the wrong decisions.

  • Past Teacher says:

    Sorry cant resist this. Sparkle Pr’s website list of clients to impress the world with:

    Cant find anything to do with Music or Schools there. I have a vision of an office full of keen advocates of their clients switching off their song list on their Iphones and embarking on presenting the Purcell School well in a world of songs and artists! (PS, for the classical music aware, most people these days refer to a piece of music as a song!)

    Why do I think that a PR company is irrelevant and a waste of time and money? A quick analysis of the students at the school will show how many were encouraged into the school by their teacher (maybe already at the Purcell School), a friend at a Junior College etc, or a past pupil. I would expect that to amount to at least 50% of the intake.

    If current students, recently departed students and teachers don’t feel happy about recommending the school that is going to heavily affect the intake. No amount of PR – even by a specialist Classical Music PR firm will change that.

    One aspect of what IS needed can be found on the web with the most cursory search:

    Here the professional development and encouragement of staff is working well in excellent schools in the normal school sector. No degree in brain surgery needed here. Just implement known good practice, turn around the rubbish staff management relationships and put in place management practice that avoids the misery developing ever again. I don’t need to say that the world presented in the Ofsted document is a faraway world in the Purcell School. Why has there never been anything like this at the school? There is a professional teaching world out there that has the answers!

    As for needing a PR company – just do the job well and it isn’t needed. Indeed, it would be quite a novelty to really be able to recommend a UK specialist music school and it would be a marvelous unique selling point!