A Policy for Touch

The hottest potato on UK Piano Forums within the last couple of weeks has been the issue of using touch in our teaching.

One good thing to come from the discussion has been the reminder that UK professional associations usually have Codes of Conduct requiring teachers to obtain written permission from parents before using touch with students under the age of 18.

This post considers how we can create such a policy, and why it is actually useful to do so.

How does having a Policy for Touch help?

Before going further, it’s important to note that the professional organisation I am a member of – the ISM – suggests:

“Physical contact between teachers and pupils is only appropriate in very limited circumstances. Teachers should consider using other strategies such as demonstrating for the student to copy.”

This is sensible advice, and I have found that as well as using explanation and demonstration, my Piano Qigong exercises (which don’t require any physical contact) help pupils develop kinaesthetic awareness and avoid tension. Personally I have only ever used touch in my teaching very rarely.

However, the ISM advice goes on to say:

“If a teacher intends to use any physical contact in their teaching, they should state this in writing before lessons begin and ask the parent or guardian to sign that they have read the document. Explain the type of touch involved, where on the body and why, and make sure the pupil is aware of the reason for physical contact. Explain this orally to parents, guardians and pupils, and keep them informed of any need to modify the type of touch required as pupils progress.”

I wonder how many teachers follow this advice. Quite a few might not be sure how to go about writing such a policy and presenting it to parents in a manner which isn’t in itself rather awkward.

While I don’t personally use a lot of touch in my teaching, I am still very glad to have a Policy for Touch in place for those times when it is necessary and I would advise all teachers to get that written permission from students/parents, including adult students, because:

  • Having an explicit policy in place is liberating – there is no longer a need for awkwardness when you do feel that using touch would be appropriate.
  • Formulating a policy and putting it into writing helps us to think through the pedagogic and personal issues very clearly.
  • Following the process provided by your professional organisation is always the right thing to do, and there are good legal reasons they formulate such advice!

There are a couple of other points to bear in mind.

Firstly, the teacher’s legal duty of care overrides the issue of touch, and this obviously links to our responsibility to help our pupils avoid common piano playing injury. The touch that is necessary to fulfil this duty of care is a matter of pedagogy, and is contested.

And secondly, if touch is used to help with correct alignment or posture, I feel it is pedagogically important to involve the parent where possible, so that they can support the child’s development throughout the week.

With that in mind I share my own Policy for Touch in full below. I am happy for other teachers to use this as a template for their own policy, adapting it to their needs. However, I urge teachers to think carefully for themselves about what touch they might use and why, ensuring their own policy reflects this.

Here then is my Policy for Touch, reproduced for you exactly as it is given to prospective students and parents:


Policy for Touch

As a professional member of the ISM I am obliged by our Code of Conduct to explain and confirm in writing the physical contact that is a common feature of good piano teaching, and which I use in lessons. When completing the Keyquest Music Registration Form you will be required to sign that you have read and accept this Policy as part of my Terms and Conditions for providing tuition.

Context

Until the last decade it was common for schools to have a “no touch” policy for teachers, but after the 2010 General Election the Government moved swiftly to change the situation with this revised policy:

“Schools should not have a ‘no touch’ policy. It is often necessary or desirable for a teacher to touch a child (e.g. dealing with accidents or teaching musical instruments).”   HM Government (2011) [1]

The Government’s positive recognition of the necessity of touch within instrumental lessons is underpinned by the principle that all teachers have a legal duty of care (which equally applies to private tuition). Safeguarding Specialist Andrew Hall explains [2],

“There is a real risk that a [no touch] policy might place a [teacher] in breach of their duty of care towards pupils, or prevent them taking action needed to prevent a pupil causing harm”.

The harm in this case is personal injury. Piano playing is a highly complex physical activity, and even the smallest habitual problem with tension, posture or misalignment can over time lead to debilitating performance-related injuries such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and focal dystonia, as well as contributing to shoulder and spinal problems.

The Use of Touch

Touch is used to identify tension, correct alignment, and help students develop their own kinaesthetic awareness. This work is crucial for beginners, and where players have neglected healthy technique or developed poor habits it is equally vital to support somatic (movement) retraining.

  • Touch is limited to: hands, wrists, arms, and very occasionally the shoulders and back.
  • The purpose of touch is always explained when physical contact is necessary, so that the student is able to engage positively and effectively in learning.
  • Where possible, I prefer a parent to participate in any use of touch, so that they can support their child while practising during the week, ensuring that harmful habits don’t develop.
  • I always check before using touch in my teaching, obtaining on-the-spot permission in addition to the general permission granted by acceptance of this Policy.
  • Physical contact is never used unnecessarily, inappropriately, or without consent.

Safeguarding

As a member of the ISM, I am guided by all of their policies on safeguarding.

Regarding my studio please also note the following points:

  • My current DBS Enhanced Disclosure Certificate is on permanent display in my Teaching Studio
  • Parents are invited to use the Waiting Room, which is separated from the Teaching Studio by double glass-panelled doors, allowing parents a full view of the lesson.
  • Adult students are very welcome to bring a friend or partner to lessons if they wish to do so.
  • Pupils are welcome to record lessons or parts of lessons for their own personal study use.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact either myself or my wife Louise.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/school-discipline-new-guidance-for-teachers
[2] https://www.safeguardinginschools.co.uk/should-schools-have-a-no-touch-policy/

This Policy is written by Andrew Eales and copyright © 2012, revised 2017 Keyquest Music.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK. He runs a successful independent teaching studio and music education business, Keyquest Music.