RADA students have alleged a culture of “oppression” at the prestigious drama school, claiming they are exposed to safeguarding issues because senior management has failed to engage with their concerns.
Breaking their silence to talk about issues at the school, students have revealed a catalogue of complaints including alleged inappropriate behaviour from staff, underqualified tutors and a general disregard for their concerns.
It comes as it is claimed that a staff member was suspended last year for an inappropriate relationship with a student. The member of staff is alleged to have resigned before the investigation had concluded.
The students approached The Stage after it emerged that the Diversity School Initiative and RADA had parted ways last month, with DSI claiming specific complaints had been raised by students, who felt they had not been addressed properly.
Students have now claimed that:
• They feel shut down by staff, and their complaints are not handled effectively by management.
• The boundaries between students and staff are blurred, which has led to concerns about inappropriate behaviour.
• They are not kept informed about what the school is doing to tackle serious issues raised.
• They are often too scared to raise issues, out of fear that management will penalise them when it comes to casting them in productions later in their studies. RADA strongly denied this.
• They were blocked from sending group emails/reply-all emails for a two-week period, after raising concerns. RADA said this was because of a security issue.
One student, who did not want to be named, raised concerns about “inappropriate behaviour from teachers towards students” but said that staff “just want to shut us down at every point” when issues were raised.
“Every single student will tell you there is a feeling that, if you were to raise a concern, it could count against you, as these people control our careers,” they said.
They added: “They have such control over how we experience the school that people are afraid to speak out. It’s the most elitist drama school, and it’s got this reputation, so it’s afraid to have anything knock that, even slightly, and so they shut down any dissent or complaint.”
They described it as a “controlling and oppressive place to be”.
Another student said there was a general problem with communication.
“People don’t feel they are listened to when they report things, and don’t report things as they don’t trust the system, as from their point of view the system has failed,” he said.
One student alleged that a member of staff on the technical side had put students at risk by “recommending rigging that was not safe”.
They said: “It was really bad behaviour but it was never investigated, despite it being brought up.”
Another said: “I am angry about the place and I am pissed off. I am unsure what can be done, but it needs to be public and it needs to be said.”
The student added: “RADA is an age-old institution and it takes a long time to change an institution. We are laying the groundwork for that now. The tutors, en masse, are great, but they can’t work within this system. It needs a complete shake-up of leadership.”
Students are keen to establish clearer communication with staff and are calling for a third-party reporting system following the end of its association with DSI.
Responding, RADA said it was “inaccurate to say that due process was not followed and that complaints are not dealt with effectively”.
“We are not aware of any incidents which we have not investigated and resolved to the satisfaction of those directly concerned. We always follow due process rigorously. When complaints are made, we always respond,” it said.
It added that RADA could not discuss “individual cases for reasons of confidentiality, but would like to stress that RADA’s core values are to provide a place of safety, openness and enjoyment, one in which our students can thrive”.
“Inevitably there are occasions when individuals may have grievances. RADA is required to have a complaints policy as part of its registration with the Office for Students, and the procedure is widely accessible and transparent. In addition to our formal channels there are multiple avenues whereby students can raise concerns. It is RADA policy to have student representation at our council meetings.”
Responding to specific complaints, RADA refuted the allegation that should a student complain, their role in a future production would be compromised.
“Our approach to casting and allocating production roles to students is to provide the best opportunity for students. For public productions, third-year actors are invited to make suggestions about plays they’d particularly like us to produce or writers they are interested in, and are asked to indicate roles they are interested in. Our Theatre Production students, who specialise in second and third year, are asked about their preferences ahead of show staffing,” it said.
It added that students have always been able to send group emails.
“We limited access to preset groups on our server for a short period because of a security concern. All year groups were informed as soon as the issue was resolved,” it added.
The drama school added that its code of conduct “does not permit intimate relationships between students and staff”.
“Where any inappropriate behaviour of staff members is drawn to our attention, it will be subject to investigation and, if warranted, disciplinary action,” it said.
The school also described student safety in training as one of its primary concerns and said “any safety breaches are reported and addressed”, which it said was the case with the rigging incident described by students. It said its staff were qualified for the responsibilities they undertook.