No abusers wanted here?

14th November 2008 at 00:00
Is it ever appropriate to use the work of paedophiles? The furore over a Gary Glitter song raises key questions

Dozens of schools in Britain use the popular font Gill Sans on their entrance signs. Indeed, Hampshire county council requests that all its state schools do so.

This typographical trend may seem unconnected to the furore this week over the inclusion of a Gary Glitter song in GCSE coursework instructions.

Yet the font, like the song, was the creation of a paedophile: Eric Gill, a celebrated artist and typographer who sexually abused his children and his dog.

Both cases raise the question of whether it is ever appropriate to use a child abuser's work in schools.

This week the exam board AQA gave in to pressures from children's charities and the press to remove Glitter's song "I'm the leader of the gang (I am)" from a list of related listening for GCSE music. The case had been brought to the attention of The Sun by a deputy head from Windsor, who was outraged that pupils might buy music by the convicted child molester.

Teachers' unions were among those who criticised the exam board. Christine Blower, the NUT acting general secretary, said that "whatever Gary Glitter's place is in the history of glam rock, including a record of his in an exam is not only crass but unacceptable".

The controversy follows a similar row last year over Brian Davey, a music teacher jailed for 13 years for abusing 11 girls in the 1970s and 1980s. One of his victims said she had been appalled to discover that educational books Davey had written, such as Recorder Playing in Colour, were still on sale.

However, some teachers have defended their right to use songs and books written by authors and musicians who have led unsavoury lives.

Michele Ledda, a secondary English teacher in Yorkshire, said: "I don't know if a Gary Glitter pop song should have been part of the music curriculum to begin with. But it's ludicrous to suggest a song is going to damage children. It is a witch-hunt."

Mr Ledda has set up a petition calling for AQA to reinstate a Carol Ann Duffy poem which the board dropped this year after a handful of complaints about knife crime. He stressed that the two cases were very different, but showed that exam boards over-reacted at the first sign of controversy.

Michael Hand, reader of philosophy of education at the Institute of Education in London, said that teachers should use common sense when deciding what was suitable.

"My intuition is to say that works of art - including novels, poems, symphonies and songs - should be sharply distinguished from their creators," Dr Hand said.

Several teachers pointed out the bad examples set by other writers and composers that pupils study, including Wagner's anti-semitism, Coleridge's drug-taking and Philip Larkin's racism and misogyny.

Lis McCulloch, chair of the National Association of Music Educators, said that it was difficult to set hard rules on what type of person could be discussed in class. Teachers should first consider whether the musical example itself was appropriate to what they were teaching, she said. With historically controversial figures it was important for teachers to explain to pupils how they and their music reflected "the culture of their times".

Clearly, Glitter and Davey's actions are not considered acceptable by their contemporaries. Another crucial difference is that they can still profit from sales of the material.

The website Music Exchange, which provides sheet music for schools and education centres, was this week still offering music by Glitter and books by Davey.

Gerald Burns, one of its directors, said: "We just supply what people ask for. We are not a censorship company, and once you start down that path where do you stop?"

Teachers' views on

"I did a quick straw poll during my A2 music lesson. The students said that the song was rubbish (I can't write what they actually said) and that there are lots of other songs to choose from. They did not agree with AQA's use of the song and nor do I."


"When I saw Gary Glitter at Nottingham Palais in about 1974, I thought he was absolutely brilliant! I was horrified later, when his true nature was revealed, and felt, as an adult, betrayed. But the song does not relate to his later criminal activity. We don't ban Wagner, and Lawrence is on the literature syllabus, despite his political leanings, and I love Larkin, a blatant misogynist."


"I notice too that Meatloaf's music is on there, as well. Perhaps that should be banned in light of the childhood obesity epidemic."


"It's not the greatest song choice, not least trying to get a class back on track once they've expressed (violent, often illegal) options for dealing with child molesters."


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