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Drama schools rubbish elitism claims with 80% state school statistics

RADA, 71% of those on its acting course are state educated.
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Leading drama schools have hit back at claims training is only for the wealthy, with statistics released to The Stage revealing state-educated pupils regularly make up around 80% of the intake on many of the UK’s most prestigious courses.

By comparison, the University of Oxford’s intake of state school students was 57% in 2013, while at Cambridge the percentage was around 60%. The UK-wide average for state-educated students on university undergraduate courses was 89.3% in 2012/13.

The findings follow complaints made by actors including Judi Dench and Julie Walters, both of whom have previously said many people cannot attend drama schools because of the costs associated with training. Critics claim this has led to a proliferation of privately educated performers from wealthy backgrounds.

In response, The Stage approached all drama schools accredited by Drama UK to ask for statistics relating to the breakdown of students on their courses.

Although the statistics vary, and some schools’ figures are more current than others, they reveal that in every case where The Stage got a response, state-educated pupils made up most of the students attending drama schools.

• Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – 83.8% of undergraduates from state schools (2012/13)

• Guildhall School of Music and Drama – 79.5% of drama undergraduates from state schools (2013/14) – up from 78.9% (2012/13). Overall, 67.7% of the school’s students were state-educated in 2012/13

• Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts – 85% of current intake on both acting and musical theatre courses are from state schools.

• Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts –  87.4% from state schools (2012/13)

• LAMDA – 65% of acting degree course students from state schools (2013/14)

• RADA – 71% of acting students state-educated (2012/13). In 2012/13, 40% of RADA’s total student cohort came from families with an income less than £25,000

• Bristol Old Vic Theatre School – 77% (20 of 26 graduating students) from state schools (2013/14)

• ArtsEd Schools – 50% of students receive financial assistance

• Rose Bruford – 91.6% of students from state schools (2012/13)

• The Oxford School of Drama – 42% of students starting on full time acting courses in 2014/5 come from households with incomes less than the UK average salary (£26,500). 78% of students on full time acting courses in 2014/15 come from state schools.

RADA director Edward Kemp said the main difficulty was for graduates being able to support themselves after drama school, which is where the wealth of a student can be beneficial.

“For acting graduates, who need to be available to attend auditions and castings, they are often in low paid, temporary jobs, and so those whose money runs out often crash out of their career despite their talent. Bank of mum and dad definitely comes into play here,” he said.

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama said “raw” data from its undergraduate students who began this month showed around 43.2% were from a household with less than £25,000 income.

Catherine McNamara, pro-dean for students, said: “Drama schools are absolutely for everyone, and a diverse student community is something we strive to achieve.”

However, she added evidence suggests those from lower-income backgrounds “worry more” about how they will repay student loans when they graduate.

LAMDA said that in 2013/14, 27 students were from students whose family income was below £25,000, compared with 18 in 2012/13.

The school pointed out it had a “strong scholarships and bursaries programme”, with 20% of its students in receipt of support of some kind.

“We are keen to ensure that students with talent are able to access our training, irrespective of their schooling or household income,” the school said.

While Arts Educational Schools does not monitor the breakdown of state versus privately educated students, its principal Jane Harrison said 50% of students received financial support, without which they would not be able to complete their studies.

Harrison said the misconception about drama schools only being for the wealthy had arisen from the publicity around the success of actors who went to Harrow School or Eton, and said this was “unfair” on drama schools.

She added: “In my opinion, every single drama school is doing their utmost to ensure they have students from a whole variety of backgrounds.”

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School artistic director Jenny Stephens said that, over the past two years, a third of its students on undergraduate courses came from backgrounds where household incomes were less than £25,000 a year.

“By far, the majority of our students are very definitely state educated. Diversity is our lifeblood; we have a whole range of students at BOVTS. The only thing they have in common is talent,” she said.

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