THE principal of the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is to put plans in place to help “nurture” students following a review into bullying allegations against senior members of staff.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey said it was important that students were taught in a “safe and positive” environment and vowed to put the far-reaching plan in place. It comes after hundreds of students signed an open letter demanding senior managers urgently address “serious discrimination and abuse” at the institution.

More than 600 signed the online petition which follows an official complaint which was lodged last February alleging abusive and unprofessional conduct displayed by staff members against undergraduates with additional needs.

Ten students from the Contemporary Performance Practice (CPP) programme added “in particular its course leader, Professor Deborah Richardson-Webb”.

An independent review this week into the CPP and its complaints handling process revealed claims of “favouritism, bullying and misuse of authority”.

Last week, The Herald on Sunday revealed allegations of inappropriate behaviour experienced by several people while studying or working at the CPP course.

READ MORE: Suffering for their Art? Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students speak out over treatment during studies 

The external review, which was conducted from November 2019 and released on Monday, concluded the “overall culture of CPP is one that appears to be in urgent need of review and repair”.

It said: “It fulfils a unique function and seeks to do so through a warm-hearted and socially-conscious focus. On the other hand, it has developed a worrying level of discord, internal division and the impression of an excessively controlled environment.”

The review team, Professor George Caird and Danielle Chavrimootoo, gathered evidence covering the entire lifespan of the programme, from 1999 to the present day.

They received 131 confidential written submissions and held meetings with 23 individuals, either alone or in small groups.

The report added: “The course is referred to by some as ‘challenging’ and the head of programme is referred to as, at times, ‘combative’ and not always easy to work under.

“But, more worryingly, a significant number of submissions (around 40%) are extremely critical of the programme and its leader.”

It went on: “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.”

Following the publication, Professor 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.

“CPP is a groundbreaking programme with a committed community of staff, students and alumni. It and they are an incredibly important part of Scotland’s and the international 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.”

Students gave the pledge a cautious welcome but said that changes would take time to deliver.

Jee Chan, 25, graduate of the CPP course, was involved in the initial complaint, lodged in February 2019, which led to the circulation of the open letter on social media and an online petition.

He said: “It has taken my peers and me more than a year to get to this stage so the release of the report was definitely somewhat relieving.

“This is testament to both the severity of the concerns which were raised as well as the strength of the collective voices, who fought tirelessly to ensure that these concerns were heard by RCS management.”

Mr Chan thinks the results of the report “point to the severe lack of resources, expertise and support systems in the CPP programme to address the contexts of students which cut across race, gender, sexuality and disability.

“However, the report falls short of naming these issues. Given how it has become clear that a vast majority of those who came forward with testimonies of abuse and discrimination identify as either people of colour, women, trans, queer, and/or disabled, I believe it is important to explicitly highlight and honour the experiences of those who have faced oppression as a result of being seen and treated as ‘other’ by certain staff within the institution. The report is lacking in this way.”

He added: “For all that has come up in the review, I continue to believe that a public statement apologising for the distress and trauma perpetrated by the RCS and its staff upon numerous individuals is the basic line of reparation. Not doing so risks altogether invalidating the lived experiences of us all. Furthermore, it is crucial to note that the key recommendations as issued within the review report are non-binding.

“It is now up to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s principal, its senior management team and especially the staff members on the CPP programme to duly and actively put these recommendations into practice as a matter of urgency.

“The review has concluded and yet it is only the beginning of any real change.”