Now offering funding of up to 60% for students via its new Access to the Arts scheme, READ College provides practical foundation courses that have secured 100% of its graduates places at drama schools in the last five years
It is notoriously difficult to get a foot in the door of the theatre world. Course costs and audition fees often mean that training is only accessible to those who can afford it. One performing arts school, though, is taking steps to make sure its top-quality pre-degree teaching is open to all.
Reading-based READ College is the UK’s leading performance arts foundation college – it has been successfully securing students places at top drama schools for 11 years – and has just launched a brand-new scheme, Access to the Arts, offering bursaries of up to 60% for any of its four full-time courses.
“It’s always been really difficult for kids from those under-represented backgrounds, where they maybe haven’t been able to go to dance and drama classes every weekend, to get into any of the big drama schools,” says Jamie Read, the college’s co-founder. “Through these new bursaries, we can make sure they get the foundation training and advice they need to succeed.”
READ College’s constant fundraising efforts mean that there is no limit to the number of bursaries it can award. Each will be awarded on acceptance, via means-testing: any student on a household income of less than £70,000 per year will be supported. And this, says Read, is just the beginning.
“We are doing loads of fundraising work this year,” he explains. “We’re running events, we’re doing sponsored stuff, we’re applying to charities and trusts and philanthropists, all to build a permanent pot of money that will ensure the future of our Access to the Arts bursaries for years to come.”
READ College is based in a converted Victorian church in Reading – “it’s a bit like Hogwarts – all spiral staircases and big oak doors,” says Read – and offers four full-time foundation courses, alongside a range of summer schools and half-term programmes.
There are two vocational, two-year sixth-form courses for those aged 16-18 – one in acting, one in musical theatre – and two year-long foundation courses for students of any age. All are designed to provide participants with the skills they need to succeed at getting into drama school.
“They are very, very practical courses,” says Read. “Our students learn by doing all the time. They’re in classes from 8.15am to 6.20pm, covering every sort of dance, drama and singing discipline you can imagine. At the end, they come out with the equivalent of three A levels.”
The statistics speak for themselves. The average grade READ College graduates attained last year was equivalent to two A*s and a B at A level. Since the school began, 98% of graduates have been offered places at three-year degree-level drama schools. In the last five years, it has been 100%.
Read, who founded the college with his wife Helen in 2008, puts its extraordinary success down to several factors – the quality of teaching, the small class sizes, and the friendly, family-like atmosphere.
“We have some amazing people on the teaching staff,” says Read, “And we only take a maximum of 15 students on each course per year, so we know every single student and tailor the training to make sure everyone is getting what they need.”
“The college is busy, it’s lively, and it’s frenetic, but it has such a lovely atmosphere, and we have a massive alumni network, so we keep in touch with all of our graduates,” continues Read. “It sounds a bit corny, but it really does feel like a family.”
And now, thanks to READ College’s new Access to the Arts bursaries, it is a family that welcomes everyone.
For more information about READ College, including open days, visit readcollege.org