(Post made at 1251 UK time on 21 May 2017. This post is made on a personal basis, as a member – and until 4 February 2017 Chairman -of SWYM because of my significant concerns about some aspects of the running of the musically excellent Wessex Youth Orchestra, and about recent aspects of the governance of SWYM. Please see https://musicmattersandculture.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/welcome-disclosure-of-interests-terms.html for important background and disclosure of interests).
Why am I commenting in public?
- Given the questions as to whether the SWYM is being run in line with its Constitution, and for general good governance,the SWYM Constitution needs to be accessible to SWYM members. To date, this blog has (to my knowledge) been the only place where members could view the Constitution (you can it see here).
- The College is a publicly-funded body and members of the public (including of course SWYM members, but also school headteachers and heads of music and conductors of other ensembles) have a right to view information obtained from the College under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This blog provides such a place for the responses to my FoIA requests (e.g. here)
- As explained in the very early posts on this blog, while I was Chairman of SWYM, I had a duty to communicate with SWYM members in a situation where I had significant concerns about whether the SWYM Constitution was being followed. I had previously raised these concerns privately but was concerned that I had not been given satisfactory answers.
- My confidence in the ability and/or willingness of the College to address the concerns I had been raising (about the management style within CWYM vis a vis both SWYM and staff, the degree of freedom the SWYM Committee had to choose items for discussion on its agenda, and a lack of accountability of the WYO Director, including a very high degree of secrecy about the WYO rehearsal schedule) has been increasingly undermined by several of the College’s actions (and inactions) over the period since last November.
- My most significant concern has been a lack of transparency and accountability in WYO matters, and a very strange attitude shown towards governance by senior College representatives. This included a view that it was acceptable to conduct meetings with significant agenda changes without proper prior notice, and that if the CWYM Director’s job description conflicted with the SWYM Constitution the job description should prevail and that my desire to clarify or resolve any conflict was a waste of Committee and College staff time.
- My lack of confidence has only increased because of the following. The College’s attempts to prevent the publication of the WYO rehearsal schedules which they supplied to me under the Freedom of Information Act under the spurious grounds that copyright prevented publication. (It doesn’t, provided copyright is acknowledged and no commercial use is made). The sending of the “WYO Key Facts” document with its manifest errors which the College failed to correct, despite ample opportunity to do so. In addition, I became aware of cases where significant concerns had been raised about WYO matters, yet the College seemed to have taken no action (despite having received supporting evidence) on the grounds that those who had raised the concerns had not made a formal complaint.
- I had repeatedly informed the College privately that I believed this was a potential whistle-blowing situation. This was ignored, and indeed it was made clear to me that my continued raising of concerns was viewed as unnecessary and irritating by the College. (If, within an educational establishment, raising concerns about the treatment of children and staff and the reliability of information supplied to other educational establishments is not viewed as legitimate, then this seems to show a strange set of cultural values).
What does it matter whether the College shares information about extra WYO rehearsals with schools and other musical ensembles?
- The integrity of the College and WYO’s communications is at stake. As SWYM Chairman I was told that “school must come first”, and that schools were kept fully informed as to when WYO extra rehearsals occurred so clashes were easily avoided. Yet several teachers informed me that they could only find this information out if children or parents were willing to tell them (in violation of the schedules’ clear instruction to keep this information confidential to WYO members and their families only). Unsurprisingly some parents and children had been reluctant to violate that instruction. This clearly raised questions. If the information provided to me as SWYM Chairman was inaccurate, then why? And if the WYO/College could see nothing wrong with this situation, what else might be happening/what other information might be unreliable? Where does the WYO/College draw the line between right and wrong?
- Given that I have heard several reports (from teachers and parents) that some children in WYO had felt under unreasonable amounts of pressure, the question as to how many extra rehearsals there are and what the attendance requirements are is clearly relevant. If (as happened last term) there are significant numbers of extra rehearsals (6), then although the minimum attendance requirement (“70% of the schedule”) sounds reasonable, is actually very onerous: 70% of 18 rehearsals (12 regular + 6 extra) is actually the equivalent of “100% of the normal schedules plus one extra rehearsal”.
- Those are the minimum requirements, but if parents and teachers report that they feel children are put under unreasonable pressure, have children been pressed in practice to attend far more than the minimum (already arduous last term)?
- School teachers and others have told me that they want to support the WYO and want to avoid clashes, but that is very difficult if – as they claim (and I have now seen direct evidence of) the WYO have refused to share this information. When clashes do occur (as I’m aware has happened), it is wrong if children and their parents are put in the difficult position of having to decide whether to attend a school event or a WYO extra rehearsal, particularly when I had been told that “school must come first”, yet I have seen evidence of the WYO refusing a request to say to affected children “do play in your school concert and if there’s time afterwards, come to our rehearsal”.