Ballet pupils face losing fees as dance school closes amid sexual misconduct claims

11 September 2020, 16:18

Pupils face losing money in liquidated ballet school
Pupils face losing money in liquidated ballet school. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Dancers claim they have lost significant sums of money in the sudden liquidation of one of Britain’s most prestigious ballet schools.

Ballet West, a dance school in Argyll, Scotland, closed in August following allegations of sexual misconduct. Now, students accepted to the Highlands boarding school have claimed they are facing financial losses of up to £10,000.

Many dancers, who were due to start this week, had paid upfront fees to the school which haven’t yet gone back into families’ pockets. Some dancers have found a place at another school but are unable to attend while their money is tied up at Ballet West.

The Taynuilt school closed last month after an ITV news investigation uncovered multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against the vice principal, Jonathan Barton – who is also the son of the school’s principal and founder, Gillian Barton.

The claims, dating back more than a decade, alleged “inappropriate behaviour” by Barton towards more than 100 teenagers. Barton resigned but denied the allegations. A police inquiry is ongoing.

In August, Ballet West’s board of trustees described the claims as “shocking” and said it had been “driven to the point of insolvency” by “a catastrophic sequence of events”.

Jonathan Barton was accused of multiple counts of grooming
Jonathan Barton was accused of multiple counts of grooming. Picture: Facebook

The school, which last year was named ‘Best British Ballet School’ at the British Ballet Grand Prix, trained dancers to undergraduate level, as well as offering dance teacher training and outreach programmes for young dancers. It also had its own professional touring company.

Young dancers and their families are now concerned they won’t get their money back.

Australian dancer Catherine D’Ornay, 16, told the BBC she has found a new school but can’t afford to accept the place. Her father, Ban, spoke to the school and sent through the fees – almost £10,000 – over a month ago. They heard radio silence, until the announcement the school was being closed.

Catherine has been accepted to a ballet school in France, but her family don’t have the cash while it’s tied up in Ballet West. Ban said: “Her career is riding on what happens with Ballet West. Our argument is the money is ours, not theirs. The money was paid for tuition and the tuition never started so we are waiting to see what happens.”

Ballet West has gone into liquidation
Ballet West has gone into liquidation. Picture: Getty

16-year-old dancer Isabella Guyan found herself in a slightly better situation, her father telling the BBC he managed to get a partial refund before the school closed, and before they travelled over from New Zealand, but there is “still a fair bit outstanding”.

The accountant handling the liquidation, Eileen Blackburn of French Duncan, said it’s too early to say whether families will get their money back. “At this stage we are gathering information to establish the financial state of affairs of the company,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it is too early to be able to indicate whether there will be funds available to make payments to any... students and parents who are looking to have fees refunded.”

There are now calls for tuition fees to be protected in case of similar events.

The Royal Academy of Dance has withdrawn its accreditation and said what happened at Ballet West was a “wake-up call” for the dance teaching industry.

Bath Spa University, which provided 70 percent of the school’s student intake, has also terminated its relationship.