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Safeguarding Code of Conduct

Our Safeguarding Code of Conduct outlines best practice and expected behaviours for MU members working in any kind of music education role, or in any professional situation where children or vulnerable adults may be present.

Last updated: 05 July 2023

This Code of Conduct describes expected behaviours for MU members working in music education, whether in instrumental or vocal teaching, outreach, workshop leading, ensemble coaching or any other related activity. It also applies to members working with children and vulnerable adults in other capacities, e.g. working on a theatre production that involves child actors.

Where a member is working independently (e.g. in a private home or teaching studio) this Code of Conduct is designed to be comprehensive. Where a member is working in a setting with its own safeguarding policy (e.g. a school), or for a third-party engager (e.g. a music service), other codes of conduct or policies may also apply.

This Code of Conduct is designed to ensure the safety and protection of children and vulnerable adults who engage in musical activities led by the member. It aims to prevent risk to all parties, provide advice on how to proceed if risk is identified, and set out the member’s safeguarding responsibilities. It is provided by the Musicians’ Union for use by MU members.

Key behaviours

Members should:

  1. Commit to upholding the highest standards of safeguarding and child protection, knowing that creating a safe environment for all is everyone’s responsibility.
  2. Maintain high standards of personal behaviour. Be friendly and approachable but professional in your interactions. Never use inappropriate language, sexual or otherwise, including in writing. Never engage in sexual relationships with students, including those over 16 if the relationship is professional. Do not befriend students or share details of your private life with them. Never work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or smoke in front of students.
  3. Abide by the MU’s Music Sector Code of Conduct, designed to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination. Understand that these behaviours are never acceptable.
  4. As well as following this Code of Practice, be aware of other safeguarding policies that may also apply to them – e.g. a school safeguarding policy – and also follow these. 
  5. Develop an understanding of the various issues that can cause students harm, using this knowledge to remain vigilant to risks and promote a safe environment for learning (see Supplementary Advice below).
  6. Acquire a basic knowledge of, and be able to identify, the signs of the four most common forms of the abuse: emotional, physical, sexual and neglect (see Supplementary Advice, below).
  7. Be aware that those experiencing abuse can be any age, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality or faith; and that those who abuse can be any age, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality or faith.
  8. Understand and be able to identify grooming behaviour (see Supplementary Advice below). Never intentionally behave in any way that could be perceived as grooming.
  9. Report any concerns or disclosures to an appropriate authority (see below).
  10. Keep records about children and vulnerable adults securely protected and retain them for no longer than necessary, whether records are physical or digital.
  11. Ensure that consent is gained from all relevant parties for all photos or film of students, and that these are stored securely and retained no longer than necessary.
  12. Maintain an up-to-date DBS check using the online DBS Update Service (England and Wales only). If based in Scotland or Northern Ireland, maintain equivalent checks. The MU can process DBS checks for members.


Members should:

  1. Use contracts and service level agreements that clearly set out responsibilities, boundaries and expectations. The MU provides template contracts for self-employed education work.
  2. Communicate all information with guardians via an agreed channel (i.e. email or phone), avoiding direct communication with the student unless agreed with guardians.
  3. Understand that different terms of employment mean different arrangements for communicating with guardians, and comply with these. Ask for clarification if needed.
  4. Use professionally appropriate photographs for email, text messaging, social media profiles and so on, making every effort to avoid inappropriate photographs being seen by students.
  5. Where possible, use a professional email address or point of contact that is specifically for teaching and education work.
  6. Restrict profiles on social media so that these do not automatically accept contact requests and cannot be viewed by students.
  7. Similarly, restrict profiles when teaching online via Zoom or other video calling apps. Encourage students to do the same.
  8. Never communicate with a student via social media such as Twitter, Facebook etc, or give unnecessary personal details to a student.

Delivering lessons in person

Members should:

  1. Dress appropriately and professionally.
  2. Respect students’ personal space and avoid inappropriate physical contact. Never use physical contact as a form of punishment.
  3. If physical contact is deemed necessary for teaching, ask permission first and explain clearly what will happen. Stop or avoid touch if the student does not give consent or seems uncomfortable. The MU advises against touch in music lessons but acknowledges that teachers will make their own decisions about this.
  4. Try to avoid teaching in a room that is far away from other people or activity. A room with a window is advisable to promote a feeling of openness and transparency.
  5. If teaching in a school, other venue or student’s home, discuss any concerns about the room with an appropriate person, with a view to making alternative arrangements or adaptations if necessary.
  6. If teaching in your own home, keep the room as tidy, neutral and professional as possible.
  7. Avoid a room layout where you are positioned between the student and the door.
  8. Try to match the student’s eye level as far as possible when teaching, rather than standing over them or sitting below them on a low chair, for example.
  9. Avoid taking students alone on car journeys. If transporting a group of students, e.g. to concerts or exams, ensure that appropriate insurance is in place and guardians have consented.
  10. Never make suggestive or inappropriate remarks to a child, such as innuendo, swearing, or discussing intimate relationships. Avoid sarcasm or remarks that could be misinterpreted.
  11. Never engage in grooming behaviour or behaviour that could be perceived as grooming.

Delivering lessons online

When teaching online, members should follow any applicable guidance from the above list for delivering lessons in person. They should also:

  1. Ensure that guardians are fully informed that online teaching is happening and are given information about appropriate practice relating to it. If needed, consent can be obtained by using the MU’s template contract for online teaching.
  2. Use video calling apps for lessons only and no other purposes.
  3. Ensure that guardians have consented if a lesson needs to be recorded for some reason. If possible and practical, record audio only and delete the recording if it was created to be given to a student. If the recording needs to be retained, for example if a lesson is to be observed as part of a professional development programme, explain this to guardians and agree a date by which the recording will be deleted.
  4. Dress appropriately and professionally as for a face-to-face lesson.
  5. Use a neutral background and/or a background blurring setting.
  6. Terminate the call if the student wears excessively informal attire, has an inappropriate background or behaves inappropriately, and communicate the reason with guardians and/or line manager (as appropriate) afterwards.

Reporting disclosures and concerns

Members should report the following via the appropriate channels:

  1. A safeguarding disclosure made by a student (after first responding to the disclosure according to the following section).
  2. Other concerns such as:
    1. bruising or evidence of physical injury on the student, not obviously the result of a normal accident.
    2. Unusual behaviour by the student.
    3. If a member suspects that a student is infatuated with them.
    4. Suspicious or worrying conduct of another adult, including a teacher or guardian.

Responding when a disclosure is made

Members should:

  1. Listen carefully, openly and without judgement.
  2. Reassure the student that they are doing the right thing by disclosing and will be taken seriously.
  3. Tell the student that it will be necessary to report what they are saying, and that confidentiality cannot be promised. If this causes the student to end the disclosure, report this.
  4. Allow the student to make the disclosure at their own pace, asking questions for clarification only.
  5. Try to avoid excessive emotion, even if what is being disclosed is distressing.
  6. Tell the student what will happen next and who the information will be shared with.
  7. Make a written record of what was said as soon as possible, noting the date and time and using the student’s own words as far as possible. Anonymise student information on written notes as far as possible, e.g. by using initials.
  8. Ensure that no information about the disclosure is shared outside of the reporting process.

Reporting a disclosure

Members should:

  1. Report any disclosure as soon as possible, as follows:
    1. If working in a school, report to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL). Note that this person may be referred to as the designated safeguarding officer or other title.
    2. If working for a music service, hub or agency, report to that organisation’s DSL. If possible, also report to the DSL of the setting where the teaching is taking place.
    3. For members teaching independently, e.g. in a home or private studio, use judgment and report to guardians, the school, children’s social care, adults social care, or the police as appropriate. If unsure and in need of further guidance, call the NSPCC’s free 24-hour helpline on 0800 800 5000. Note that a disclosure should not necessarily be referred to guardians if it relates to them, so take advice in this situation.
    4. Members who are not engaged in education work should report disclosures to the DSL where they are working. All workplaces where children or vulnerable adults are present should have someone responsible for safeguarding. Call the NSPCC if unsure.
  2. Refer to notes for accuracy when reporting.
  3. Call the police if you are concerned that there is immediate danger or a crime has taken place. Seek medical help if a child or vulnerable adult is seriously injured.
  4. Keep notes of when, how and to whom any disclosure, concern or allegation is reported. Anonymise student information in writing, e.g. using initials only.
  5. Follow up a verbal referral with a written note or email to create an evidence trail showing that the referral was made. Anonymise student information in writing (unless making a referral to the police, children’s social care or the NSPCC).
  6. Be aware that once a disclosure has been reported, only limited information on what follow-up action has been taken may be provided, depending on confidentiality.
  7. Contact the MU for advice if any referral or reporting is not processed satisfactorily.

Reporting other concerns

Members should:

  1. Keep notes with dates and times, e.g. when unusual behaviour took place, or when/where an unusual injury was noted.
  2. If serious, follow the same process as for reporting a disclosure.
  3. If less serious, use judgment. It may be more appropriate to speak to a student’s classroom teacher, for example, than to go to the DSL.

Protecting children and vulnerable adults in non-education settings

Members working in non-educational settings – including but not limited to theatres, recording studios and community venues – may be required to work alongside children and vulnerable adults. It is everyone’s responsibility to create a safe environment for all.

Members should consider what the safeguarding responsibilities of their role might entail and follow any safeguarding policy or guidance that has been provided. At minimum, members should ensure that their own behaviour is appropriate and in line with the above guidance on safeguarding in education. They should also be ready to respond to disclosures appropriately and report any behaviour of concern.

Some roles, e.g. musical director, might play a more active role in developing and implementing a safeguarding policy for a particular production, performance or project. Guidance on creating a safeguarding policy is beyond the scope of this Code of Conduct, but members can contact for more information, which may result in members being signposted to other relevant organisations and services.

Working with adults

Members should be aware that it is not always clear whether an adult is vulnerable. While it may be obvious in some settings, in other situations it may not be immediately discernible, e.g. when taking on a new adult student. Members should therefore proceed with caution and work on the basis that adults may be vulnerable until more information is available.

The MU advises members working in conservatoires, universities or colleges to view adult students in full-time education as though they were children for the purposes of safeguarding (although the reporting process is different for adults, who have more say in what action is taken). Education providers often contractually limit teachers from having sexual or other inappropriate relationships with students. In any case, there is a power imbalance to such relationships that is ethically questionable even if all parties are above the age of consent.

The MU advises members working independently with adult learners, e.g. in private teaching, to use common sense and discretion, working within the spirit of this Code of Practice while understanding that a professional relationship with a confirmed non-vulnerable adult is different from working with a child or a vulnerable adult. Remember that sexual harassment and bullying are never appropriate, and a respectful attitude should always be part of professional conduct.