Don't touch pupils' fingers, British music teachers are told

Music teachers are being told not to touch the fingers of pupils learning to play instruments. The Musicians' Union has produced a video telling teachers: "It isn't necessary to touch children in order to demonstrate: there's always a better way."

But the video has provoked a storm of protest from teachers and campaigners who attacked the guidance as "madness" and said the video – which features a man teaching a child the violin – as a "grossly caricatured version of teacher-pupil contact".

The video, called "Inappropriate Demonstration", shows a lesson in which a pupil fails to play the right notes. The teacher first explains the technique by placing a hand on the pupil's shoulder and holding his fingers in the right position on the violin. He then explains it a second time by demonstrating on his own violin the correct position. The pupil then immediately plays the correct notes.

A voice-over on the video says: "When you're teaching instruments, there are times when you need to demonstrate particular techniques. "In the past, this has often been done by touching students, but this can make students feel uncomfortable and leave teachers open to accusations of inappropriate behaviour." The narrator adds: "You should never need to touch a student for demonstration. Use your creativity to find other equally effective ways to demonstrate."

The union said the video, produced with the NSPCC, MusicLeader (a charity-funded organisation to help music leaders) and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, was aimed at helping music teachers "gain a better understanding of their child protection responsibilities and avoid situations that could lead to accusations of misconduct".

But teachers criticised the video and the "no-touching" policy. One music teacher, writing on the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music's online forum under the name "Banjogirl", said: "It's all madness. I can't help touching children occasionally. "It's bringing children up to think that there is something dirty about touch and to be suspicious of other people."

Seer Green, another music teacher, said the union and the NSPCC had "missed the point". "What is most important in all this is common sense. Building a good working relationship between teacher, pupil and parent is essential. "A sense of trust needs to be built up and then when any issues around 'touch' arise, they can be handled sensibly and with the minimum of fuss."

Henry Fagg, from The Tutor Pages, an independent educational services company based in North West London, said the video depicted "a grossly caricatured version of teacher-pupil contact.

He said the "no-touching" policy was "hysterical" and interfered with day-to-day music teaching. "It also fails to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touch, and hence the real issue of child abuse is completely ignored."

Josie Middleton, of the Manifesto Club which campaigns against excessive regulation, said: "The video is absurd. Teachers need to be able to straighten backs, reposition fingers, or shake out stiff hands. "The assumption of this video is that all touch is potentially suspicious. This turns normal behaviour into something very seedy, and encourages decent people to be anxious all the time. "It also blurs the boundary between abusive touch, and caring or instructive touch – and makes it harder to distinguish genuine abuse."

Diane Widdison, spokesman for the union, said: "It's a difficult area but we are here to protect children and to protect our members' careers. "When allegations are made against music teachers they are suspended immediately while an investigation is carried out and their careers are damaged or ruined even if they are declared innocent."

In one recent case the parents of a child learning the guitar complained that the teacher had touched their child's finger to pluck a guitar string.

"A lot of children don't like to be touched by adults," she added. "You don't need to touch children to teach them how to play an instrument. We live in a culture where children know their rights and touching can be misinterpreted."


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