The UK is internationally renowned for the high standards of vocational training at its drama schools.
For anyone who is considering a career in the creative industries, specifically within the performing arts, the array of available options for professional training are considerable. It is important to clarify from the outset that there are many fine institutions in the UK offering excellent professional vocational training programmes who are not affiliated with the numerous professional bodies within the UK conservatoire sector.
Study the websites of UK drama schools and you may notice that for many institutions recurring logos appear. These logos signify that the institution is affiliated to an organisation or professional body complying with rigorous quality assurance standards, commonly referred to by their acronyms: FDS, CDMT, CUK, AMTC and so on.
What lies behind these acronyms and why are they important in the professional conservatoire training sector? As chair of one these acronyms – the Federation of Drama Schools – and principal of the Guildford School of Acting, perhaps I can help to demystify and hopefully clarify some of the perceptions relating to vocational training at drama school.
The FDS represents 20 of the UK’s leading conservatoires; each partner school is committed to delivering world-class standard professional vocational training. Since 1969, these drama schools have been unified in a shared vision of excellence and innovation in training and the upholding of professional standards for the promotion of best practice in the sector to successfully equip its graduates entering the creative industries each year.
As a graduate of two FDS schools (GSA and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama), when I was applying to drama schools in the 1990s, or the ‘pre-internet’ era, choosing which schools to apply for and audition at was, in my experience, predominately based on reputation and recommendation.
One of the key factors influencing my decision was whether the school was accredited by the forerunner of the FDS, the Conference of Drama Schools. The benchmark of being accredited signified that the institution offered highly specialised training that complied with rigorous quality standards, such as the standard of facilities, intensity of the programme, experience of the faculty and interface with the creative industries.
Today, researching drama schools to potentially apply to, and hopefully train at, is comparatively simple. Key considerations for today’s aspiring students will probably still be focused on reputation, accreditation and affiliation. However, factors such as funding, facilities, learning environment, accessibility, inclusivity, graduate destinations, famous alumni, industry connections and staff profiles will be critical elements in the decision-making process. It is universally accepted that the audition process is highly competitive.
In common with other professional bodies in the sector, partner schools of the FDS adhere to core principles, shared values and objectives in order to address and meet the challenges of the contemporary conservatoire sector and creative industries.
FDS schools are highly respected in the sector and the industry. The quality and standards of the training delivered is evidenced by the demand for places, the employment destinations of graduates and the reputations of the institutions, nationally and internationally.
Training at drama school is a privilege and a life-changing experience, so choose carefully. I ask students at the beginning of their training journey at GSA to strive not just to make a living, but to make a difference.
The FDS schools are:
• Academy of Live and Recorded Arts
• Arts Educational Schools
• Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
• Drama Centre, London
• Drama Studio, London
• East 15
• Guildford School of Acting
• Guildhall School of Music and Drama
• Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts
• Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
• Manchester School of Theatre
• Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
• Oxford School of Drama
• Rose Bruford College
• Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
• Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
• Royal Conservatoire Scotland
• Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Sean McNamara is the Chair of the Federation of Drama Schools. For more information go to: federationofdramaschools.co.uk
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