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Transparency, please drama schools

When facts and stats – about anything –  are not readily and freely available I tend to think that someone might just be hiding something. Another take on “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

Take the best known twenty or so drama schools. Come on, you know who you are. I want to know exactly how many students who graduated from your performance courses in the last few years have had professional work since they left you. Can you also tell me, please, how many of your graduates actually have independent  agent representation? And how many have left the industry? If your  statistics are good then this is your best selling point because of course when it comes down to subsequent recalls you’re all chasing the same handful of very promising applicants.

When I advise students – and I’m often asked – about applying for vocational training, I always tell them to ask searching questions about  the outcomes of any college or course they apply to. I don’t want to see them wasting money on a course which, for most, leads nowhere much. Trouble is few, if any, of the top twenty colleges publish any statistics. And I want to know why. What do they not want us to know?

If outcomes for graduates were mostly positive, then surely the drama schools would be broadcasting it from the rooftops? If you push them the colleges sometimes say they don’t have the resources to track their graduates but that doesn’t cut the mustard with me. Any college could train their graduates to plot their successes on some sort of database – so that the college had the information. Or they could, heaven forfend, even talk to them.

As it is, everyone (including the applicant’s worried granny and the headteacher of the school she or he is at)  knows that unemployment rates are high in this industry. Even then, where are the reliable stats? All sorts of gloomy figures get bandied about. When is someone going to come up with an accurate evidence-based figure and renew the research annually? How many professional actors have work at this moment? Knowledge is power. Drama schools should be compiling figures for their own graduates and then it wouldn’t be difficult to draw some accurate overall conclusions.

This week I interviewed Anne Marie Lewis Thomas  founder principal of The MTA.  Of her 104 graduates (since 2011) only 5% have left the industry altogether. All had secured independent representation when they graduated.  40 are currently working. Only two have never worked at all. She has all this at her finger tips and it sounds pretty good but perhaps it’s normal. There’s no way of telling because there are no statistics from other colleges with which to compare these achievements.

No one can  make a sensible, rational decision about whether or not to pursue vocational training and where to apply without access to detailed information about what happened or is happening to recent graduates. The fact that the Illustrious College of Performing Arts trained some world famous dame or knight in the 1960s is really – at this point – nothing to do with anything. Applicants need current, accurate, transparent statistics. A change in attitude and culture is long overdue.

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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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