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Royal Welsh College drops academic marks ‘to improve students’ mental health’

Royal Welsh College, view from Bute Park Royal Welsh College
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The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama has stopped giving first-year students their academic marks as part of a pilot scheme aimed at improving mental well-being and helping students transition into higher education.

The Cardiff drama school began implementing the practice this year for first-year students on two courses – acting and design for performance – and plans to roll it out to more undergraduate courses when the new academic year begins in September.

Rather than having a numerical mark attached to their feedback, students are only given written comments. The college hopes this will encourage them to focus more on their personal development and dissuade them from comparing themselves with others.

The academic grade, which in the first year does not contribute to a student’s final degree mark, is still available upon request.

The college said it was not aware of any other drama schools that have formally decided to remove academic marks from feedback, and it was particularly unusual to be doing so across multiple disciplines.

Other institutions also actively focus more on written feedback than marks, however this is usually on an informal basis and often limited to acting students, and some give an indicator mark rather than going into specifics.

Brian Weir, director of student experience at RWCMD, told The Stage: “Potentially these young adults have had 10 to 12 years of training and school experience that was all based on giving a value to what they were doing through a number.

“We thought we would trial taking that away and saying, ‘we’re not interested in what you perceive to be the value of a grade, we’re interested in striking up a relationship with you that’s about your progression as an individual, not that we think that is worth 62 or 73’.”

He added that the move “absolutely has a mental well-being perspective in mind”.

“Across the higher education sector overall, and within performing arts in particular, mental health issues are well documented. Students have got enough challenges when they come to us with regard to adapting to the training model and working out where they fit within the college, so let’s not also the put them in a position where they are comparing themselves to each other. That can’t be healthy,” he said.

Weir said students had so far responded well to the pilot, with only a few seeking out their academic mark.

The scheme will be extended to further undergraduate courses next year, he added, saying that he hoped students would take the ethos into their second and third years.

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