An external review into the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s contemporary performance practice degree programme has revealed claims of “favouritism, bullying and misuse of authority”, as it emerges that the head of the course has been suspended by the school pending investigation.
The school’s principal has promised “a full action plan” in response to the independent review into the culture and behaviours within the Glasgow conservatoire’s Contemporary Performance Practice programme, which found the course to be “in a time of crisis, that [is] having a significant and detrimental effect on RCS as a whole”.
The review also focused on the student complaint procedure at RCS, following a series of allegations made last year that the school was failing to act on “systemic abuse” faced by students on the four-year CPP degree course, including “ableism, queerphobia and transphobia”.
This involved 10 students, and 20 specific complaints about the head of the CPP programme, Deborah Richardson-Webb. Six of those complaints were upheld, but the students involved later spoke publicly about the situation to criticise the school’s handling of it.
It is understood that Richardson-Webb is currently suspended from RCS pending an investigation, though this occurred before the publication of the review.
Carried out between November 2019 and this month by equality specialist Danielle Chavrimootoo and former Birmingham Conservatoire principal George Caird, the review heard 131 observations relating specifically to the CPP course.
It said a significant number of these – about 40% – were “extremely critical of the programme and its leader”.
“Submissions included allegations of favouritism, bullying and misuse of authority,” the review said, adding that its research uncovered starkly differing opinions about the course and its leadership.
Observations referenced in the document described Richardson-Webb as “a visionary leader” but one who could also be “combative” and “controlling”.
“The information reported to us indicated a sad situation in which the obvious merits of the CPP culture seem to have been brought down by alleged inappropriate and unchallenged behaviours that, in the view of the review team, should not be allowed to continue,” it said.
It described the programme as “innovative, socially important and pushing the boundaries in the world of contemporary practice”, but said its culture “blurs the boundaries between what is appropriate and not appropriate behaviour in a higher education programme of study”.
The CPP course is in need of “urgent review and repair”, the report concludes, adding that its research uncovered “grounds for concern for the programme and its students”.
It recommends that RCS should take urgent action to foster a less divided atmosphere and reassure students, which should include a review of recruitment and induction practices, mental health support for students, and bringing forward the internal review of the programme.
The recommendations also refer to the fact that several staff are former students of the course, and that recruitment should be broadened.
Looking specifically at the review’s investigation into RCS’ complaints procedure, the document said the processes were in need of revision, but claimed that the procedure “is not to be blamed for the initial complain about the CPP programme or the problems that this process has revealed”.
Following the review’s publication, RCS principal Jeff Sharkey said: “This is a thorough and thoughtful review. A full action plan to respond to the issues it raises will now be developed. We will also continue to nurture this valued programme and the students who undertake it.”
However, his comments showed support for the “groundbreaking” CPP course, which he said was an important part of Scotland’s artistic ecosystem”
“This is a programme that is in itself rightly challenging, developing as it does artists and creative producers who are provocative and questioning of the status quo. It is essential their development while here at RCS takes place in a safe, inclusive and positive learning environment,” Sharkey added.
Richardson-Webb did not respond to a request for comment.