Safeguarding and the Private Piano Studio

It is extremely important as a private music educator that you take appropriate and sensible action to protect both yourself and the students.

Though the advantages of working from home are enormous, it is extremely important as a private music educator that you take appropriate and sensible action to protect both yourself and the students who enter your home to study with you. Safeguarding training and DBS checks are mandatory for every teacher who works in educational establishments.

Though this is not the case for private tutors, it cannot be emphasised too strongly that all teachers- whether they work privately or in institutions- need to be fully aware of safeguarding procedures for working and inter-relating with vulnerable adults and young people aged eighteen and under. They need to understand the differences between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Teachers need to be mindful of their actions and choice of words when interacting with minors.

Keeping up to date and revising the excellent advice given by the government in KCSIE (Keeping children safe in education – follow the link, would seem essential.

DBS Certificate

Obtaining a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) certificate is strongly recommended for private music teachers. Though this is essential for teachers in schools and tertiary educational establishments, it is extremely valuable for self-employed tutors working from home too. If you are a member of a teacher’s association or union, they will be able to help you obtain a certificate. In any case, it is straightforward to apply for a basic DBS online: You can apply directly to DBS for a basic check using this link

A basic check only costs £18 and is usually processed within 14 days. It will contain details of convictions and conditional cautions considered to be ‘unspent’ under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

Welfare

As responsible adults we have a duty of care to our students. We have a responsibility to alert authorities if we are concerned about a child’s welfare. This was made clear in the Children Act of 1989 (‘The child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration’).

Safeguarding is what teachers practise for all their pupils to ensure that their welfare is protected and promoted. It is important that we do not ignore changes in a student’s manner or appearance. If a pupil suddenly becomes aggressive or introverted, we should be concerned. Has their appearance changed? How is their personal hygiene?

Mental health concerns causing depression can see a previously buoyant young musician change into someone much more introverted and withdrawn. We need to be vigilant and aware that abuse is not only sexual, but can also be physical (injury) emotional, exploitative, or neglectful.

When a student confides

If you have a pupil who chooses to make a disclosure of abuse to you whilst in your home for a private lesson, it is vital that you do not guarantee to share this information. Listening carefully and showing empathy is important, but it is essential that you do not put words into the young person’s mouth. It is not your role to undertake any investigation into anything that is said- but it is vital that you take a precise and detailed record of the conversation, clearly labelling notes with the time and date of the conversation.

Listen-recognise-refer-record. This is the way to ensure that subsequent investigations by social services or the police are not compromised. It also prevents the pupil from having to endure the process of repeatedly giving evidence to others. Follow the TED (tell, explain, describe) approach as you support your pupil. ‘What?’ ‘When?’ ‘Who?’ ‘How?’ ‘Where?’ are all excellent starting words that help to crystalise and clarify the facts.

Though it can be challenging to remain calm, it is essential that you give as serene and professional a demure as possible. You can never offer false confidentiality. Never promise to keep secrets. As a responsible adult, you have a duty to report what you hear to the authorities.

Stay calm. Give the child your full attention and time. If you offer discussion or question anything that is said this could corrupt evidence- is it is vital that the pupil is allowed to give a spontaneous account. Though you will not investigate anything said, it is important to offer reassurance to your pupil, telling them that they have done nothing wrong in sharing the information with you. You then need to make an immediate referral either to Children’s social care and/or the Police link. It is important not to engage in direct communication with any persons under suspicion as a result of your pupils’ statements. Leave this to the relevant authority. 

A safer, more effective teaching environment

It is important not to ‘crowd’ the personal space of students in their lessons. They need space to expand with freedom into healthy postures. Sitting further back from pupils as they play to us allows for an overview of posture. Though this may not be possible if your studio is small, it is advisable to have your own instrument to hand to play rather than to share an instrument with a student. In the 21st century with electronic keyboards, this is most certainly an option for piano tutors too.

You do not need to have anything more than a £300 keyboard on a stand to hand in order to make lessons much more comfortable for yourself as well as your students. If you can sit at your own instrument during a lesson, you will not have to risk back or neck strain by leaning over a pupil to play or demonstrate a new fingering. It also saves time as you do not have to engage in a perpetual game of standing up and sitting down as you alternate between demonstrating a point and listening to playing.

An open class and parental involvement

The long journey of development that children make as they learn about music can function well when the teacher and parents support practising and development in partnership as part of a team. The degree of parental involvement will vary from child to child and there are numerous factors involved. Having said that, for very young children (and often for those that are not so young) it can be extremely beneficial for a parent to be present in the room to take notes.

Though there are some teachers who worry about what may become ‘interference’ from a parent, it is definitely healthy and empowering for all concerned if issues relating to progress are discussed. It is a huge help if parents can see and hear help what is being built up each week in the lessons.

Of course, busy lifestyles and practicalities can make it impossible for parents to sit in on lessons. From a safeguarding point of view, it is advisable not to be left alone in your house without another adult on the premises. For many years most music institutions have had windows on teaching room doors so that there is less of a feeling of exclusion when lessons take place.

It is certainly helpful to have close proximity to others whilst you teach. If at all possible, have the waiting area for pupils and parents next to your teaching room. It may not be possible to have a window on the door of your music room, but it is certainly workable to come out between lessons and to make others feel welcome to watch your teaching. It can be invaluable from an educational perspective for observers. It can also be helpful for pupils themselves: By playing in a lesson with listeners present they can develop more confidence and assurance.

Pedagogy and Touch

Though there are many teachers, perhaps particularly from Eastern Europe, who regularly take the hands of their students in order to demonstrate points relating to posture, relaxation, and co-ordination, we should be aware that it is not appropriate to touch a student without first receiving permission to do so. Many teachers feel that touch is an essential part of their pedagogical approach, and it is possible to get parents and guardians to fill in the consent form for touch to take place in the lessons for specific technical reasons.

Of course, students should never feel uncomfortable with this. In my own teaching, I have found that it is best for students to ‘teach themselves’ via touch: They can test for stiffness/tension in their right wrist by massaging it with their left hand, and vice versa. Finger tapping in one hand via the use of the other is also an effective way in which pupils can literally apply their own self-massage in order to find effective co-ordination at the instrument.

Though I would never tell a tutor not to use touch in a lesson, for myself I do feel that refraining from lifting a student’s hands or fingers is a way for the student to think more deeply about technique: When they have to do the touching themselves, they need to think about what they are doing, becoming the teacher for a moment. I would argue that this makes it more likely for them to remember what a loose, relaxed wrist feels like. Is it simply too easy to lose the will to think for yourself when your teacher lifts your wrist and puts it into the correct position?

Recording

One of the positive benefits of the pandemic has been the way it has revolutionised our approach to recording music lessons for future study. I confess to never even having heard of ‘Zoom’ before March 2020- but today it is a vital part of my life as a teacher, with the recording facility it offers proving invaluable for students and their parents as they review lessons as part of their practising and preparation for future sessions.

Do not retain recorded films of your under eighteen-year-old students. It seems much safer to have a parent in the room to do the zoom link recording, manage the angle of the camera, and the safekeeping their child’s playing themselves.

Concerts and Publicity

When it comes to recording and filming class concerts, we do have to ensure that full parental consent has been given. Because it is so easy for anyone to record anything via a phone today, care should be taken to ensure at regular intervals during a public performance that there are no illicit recordings taking place without permission having been given.

The same applies to photography. We cannot take pictures of children on impulse or without permission. In regard to posters and programmes, these are best presented for safeguarding reasons without the surnames of children included. This latter is something which can easily be missed by teachers, so is worth stressing strongly.

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