Means-tested DaDA awards to exclude wealthiest students

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One of the major funding streams for vocational drama and dance training in England will now means test applicants, with students from wealthier backgrounds no longer eligible for the bursaries.

From September, eligibility for the government-funded Dance and Drama Award will be based on a student’s household income. If this exceeds £70,000, the student will have to pay full tuition fees, with a sliding scale of funding for those on incomes below this level. However, information about a student’s financial background will not be available to schools during the audition process, so that awards are still based on ability.

In recent years, all pupils selected to receive a DaDA, apart from those in families earning less than £33,000 a year, had to pay an annual fee of £1,275 towards their tuition.

Under new arrangements, students enrolling from the academic year 2013/14 to 2015/16 will top up their fees by contributing money towards them, depending on their household income. Those from low-income families will still be exempt.

There has been a mixed reaction to the changes, with some in the sector grateful the DaDAs are continuing, while others believe it will create more work for schools.

Sue Robertson, principal at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, said it was a “matter of swings and roundabouts”.

She said that although the scheme is now fairer, it also creates “a greater period of uncertainty and potential anxiety” for students at Mountview as they will have to wait until “at least July” – two months before enrolling – to find out how much their fee contribution will be.

Liz Dale, head of education and training at the Council for Dance Education and Training, who also chaired the DaDA steering committee, said it is “lucky” that the scheme has been retained.

She said: “At a time when the arts are contracting considerably and money is under pressure, I think all the schools are absolutely delighted they have retained the same amount of money available... at an annual rate of £14 million.”

Support for maintenance costs will continue to be means tested, which has been the case since the scheme began in 1999. But individual schools will now have to carry out the administration for this.

Adrian Hall, co-director of ALRA, warned the new rules could deter many schools from taking part. He said: “This will make more financial work for the schools to make sure the figures are right and the allocation of the awards and percentages is correct for students.

“I would suggest there will be more than a few schools looking at it [the DaDA scheme] and going ‘it just isn’t worth it any more’. That is due to a combination of the value of the award now being in real terms about 20% less than it was five years ago and the cost of administering the scheme now falling on the schools.”

Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK, said it was “excellent news” that the DaDAs are continuing. He said: “There may be a few people who will be perhaps a little better or little worse off, but generally the intention of the department is that the people on low family incomes will pay less, those on slightly larger  incomes will pay about the same and those that are still within a band that you’d get subsidy for will be paying more.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The Dance and Drama Awards will continue to support the most talented and likely to succeed in the industry. The amount of support for fees and maintenance that new DaDA students starting in September 2013 receive will be based on an assessment of family income, so the help is received by those students who need it most.”

She added that around the same number of awards will be made to students as in previous years.

More details are available at www.education.gov.uk