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A cautious welcome …

I am watching the new Federation of Drama Schools with interest.

Of course I can understand why the UK’s major drama schools feel they need some kind of communal  (united?) voice. They’ve lost National Council of Drama School Training which merged with Conference of Drama Schools. The new organisation, Drama UK, seemed to achieve precious little beyond confusing the interested public with its triple level admissions system, charging drama schools huge sums of money and swanning off to China to create “a brand” (what?) there. Then it began to haemorrhage members and money. Last year it folded and good riddance.

So a fresh start seems, in theory, like a brave, sensible idea. Let’s hope  Leon Rubin (principal of East 15) and David Shirley (Head of Manchester School of Theatre) both of whom I’ve interviewed and met on many occasions – as leaders of this initiative are going to learn from the errors the last lot made.

I’m pleased, for instance to see that all the members who left Drama UK (in despair?) are on board with the Federation – although I’m sorry to see that lovely, very capable Cygnet Theatre Exeter doesn’t seem to be part of it yet.

But an opportunity has been missed with mental health. It is now very well known that performing arts students are even more prone to issues than their counterparts in other disciplines. Well over a hundred organisations, including a handful of enlightened drama schools have signed up to the Time4Change charter in an attempt to make a real difference.

The new Federation of Drama Schools should be insisting that all its member schools associate themselves with the Charter as a condition of membership. It’s no good at all these big schools saying that they already have mental health provision. One counsellor for hundreds of students who can be seen only via an appointment a fortnight hence is simply not good enough.

And what are the arrangements for allowing new colleges and schools to join? Or is this going to be the same sort of  narrowly focused closed shop that  Conference of Drama Schools was? There are many schools beyond those twenty doing fine work. Are they welcome? And what mechanisms are there, if any, for distinguishing the  good colleges from the charlatans.

I wish the new Federation well – obviously. It would very churlish not to. But I think there are some serious questions to be asked and answered if it’s to be taken seriously.


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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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