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Let’s be clear about foundation courses

I’ve thought and written a lot about performing arts foundation courses lately. It’s the time of year when students are looking at possible options for September and course providers are trying to sell their wares. Information written – in The Stage and Ink Pellet, for example by people like me helps to marry the two.

Foundation courses are designed to provide a link between school (or work outside the industry) and drama school. They offer a foundation for future training. Typically they are taught for six or nine months within an academic year although there are also some part-time ones. Providers range from drama schools who run them in addition to their degree and other courses to independent colleges. There is usually a heavy emphasis on audition technique and the best foundation courses have a good record for getting students into top drama schools and other decent performing arts training institutions.

It is important, however, for students (and their parents and teachers) to understand what foundation courses are, how they operate and what their purpose is. Very occasionally a student takes a foundation course and then goes straight into professional work. This is pretty unusual and is not what a foundation course sets out to do. The aim is “training readiness” rather than “industry readiness.”

If you do your foundation course in a drama school you are, of course,  then free to apply to any school you wish for a degree or diploma course. Staff on any foundation course should be expert advisers in helping you to work out which school might be right for you too.

Crucially, students need to understand at the outset that there is no guarantee whatever that you will be offered a two or three year place in the school you’re already in. You will have to compete with the 2,000 or so other applicants for, maybe, one of 30 places like everyone else.

Bear in mind too that there is no government funding for foundation courses. That is why some drama schools are beginning to re-badge them as, for example,  undergraduate higher education certificates with application through UCAS and access to student loan funding. But what you actually get is a foundation course – a rose by any other name.

But – and this is important – whatever it’s called a foundation course does NOT count of the first year of a degree. There is no top up facility. When it’s finished you still have to begin your diploma/degree or foundation degree from scratch which means paying fees for three further years. Some students I’ve heard about anecdotally have recently misunderstood this because the course they did wasn’t “sold” as a foundation course. The emphasis was on being an undergraduate in a drama school.

Caveat Emptor. As always.

Image: Foundation course students at Mountview which runs two respected full-time and two excellent part-time courses all clearly called “foundation courses” and self funded by participants.  Credit: Mountview

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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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