A policy for the use of 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 some UK professional associations advise 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.

Why Touch Matters

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 updated policy:

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

Our Government’s endorsement for touch within instrumental lessons is underpinned by the principle that all teachers have a legal duty of care. And it’s important to understand that this applies equally to private tuition. Even if parents are present, their payment for tuition represents delegation of “duty of care” in all aspects that pertain to our teaching.

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 – and sadly, injuries associated with piano playing are endemic among piano students. The type and amount of touch that is needed to ensure these injuries are avoided is to some extent a matter of pedagogy – but let’s be clear that teachers must take ALL possible steps to ensure students do not experience injury.

On that point, I would suggest that (quite apart from safeguarding concerns) when touch is used to help younger players develop healthy physical alignment and posture, it is pedagogically important to involve the parent in the use of touch where possible, training them to support the child’s development throughout the week. This is, I believe, one of the many good and important reasons why parents should be available to support their children during lessons.

How does having a written policy help?

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 to keep in mind, 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.

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!

Here then is my Studio Policy for the use of touch, reproduced for you exactly as it is given to prospective students and parents:


Keyquest Music: Policy for the use of touch

As a professional member of the ISM I am obliged by our Code of Conduct to 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.

The Use of Touch

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.

Touch is used to identify tension, correct alignment, and help students develop their own kinaesthetic awareness. This work is crucial for beginners, and essential where players have developed physical habits which require somatic (movement) retraining.

  • Touch is limited to: hands, wrists, the arms, 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 Studio.
  • Parents are invited to use the Waiting Room, which is separated from the 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.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to discuss them with me.

[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 and revised by Andrew Eales and copyright © 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.