At specialist music, dance or performing arts schools, the arts aren't optional extras. They’re intrinsic to the school curriculum. Students are expected to fit in high level training and hours of practice alongside a full academic provision.
It's a lot to ask any child to take on, but for those with exceptional performing ability this kind of education can be transformative.
As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. Obviously. They're smarter, funnier, more attractive and above all bursting with talent. Move over Sheku Kanneh-Mason and make way for the big guns.
Many children go through a spell of wanting to be movie stars or pop idols and given how much of both they see on television, this is entirely natural. But a genuine gift is something else. What if your child shows real promise and passion?
Is it the right choice?
Children whose talents are exceptional will almost certainly be pursuing their chosen discipline outside of school in the evenings and at Saturday schools. And for such children, life at a mainstream school can be challenging. It’s not uncommon for aspiring musicians to be up at 5am every day to practise before school starts. Committed dancers might attend dance class several evenings a week after putting in a full day at school. Would-be actors can find their school unsympathetic to time off for auditions and rehearsals. And all may spend their school days feeling like a fish out of water.
For children like these, full time specialist schools can offer the best of both worlds, providing a sound academic education alongside rigorous vocational training with like-minded classmates. Like any other school, specialist schools offer open mornings, so visit some if you can. If it’s the right place, your child will feel they've come home the moment they walk through the door.
Be aware, though, that most specialist performing arts schools can’t offer the range of academic subjects that a mainstream school will provide; for instance, there may be only one language taught. There’s also unlikely to be a lot of sport going on. And while many specialist schools are renowned for excellent pastoral care, your child will nonetheless be expected to work hard and behave well. They are being trained for a fiercely competitive environment, and professional standards will be required of them from the start.
Choosing a specialist performing arts school
No two performing arts schools are alike. Some specialise in classical music training, some in classical ballet, others in drama and musical theatre. Some will act as an agency and find their pupils professional work, others won’t encourage anything that takes their students out of school. Some will be fine with their pupils continuing at their existing Saturday classes, others won’t allow this. Some receive funding from the government, some don’t get anything. Where do you start?
We can help.
Use the advance filter in The Good Schools Guide school search. Our experts have visited and reviewed many excellent specialist music, dance and performing arts schools.
If you would like advice especially tailored to your child, the Good Schools Guide Education Consultants has experts in specialist arts schools and in scholarships and bursaries. We can work one-to-one with you to find the right school for your talented child. Contact us: [email protected] or 0203 286 6824.
Competition for places.
Expect competition to be intense. Specialist schools are on the lookout for exceptional ability and potential and the selection process is likely to involve at least two rounds of auditions, plus interviews and academic tests. A good performing arts school won’t take pupils just to fill up places, so some year groups will be smaller than others.
Help with fees
Almost all specialist performing arts schools are fee-paying. Boarding is often favoured and may be essential if you live some distance away, pushing the annual fees well into the five-figure range. Some specialist schools are able to offer bursaries and scholarships, although the level of these will vary.
At eight particular specialist independent schools, judged to be leaders in their field, government subsidies can be available for young musicians and dancers (but not actors). Most of these schools are reviewed by The Good Schools Guide.
Choir schools are schools attached to cathedrals, churches and college chapels. Most are as ancient as the religious buildings they serve since they were founded to educate the boy choristers who sang at services.
Today there are 44 choir schools in the UK, the majority of which admit choristers from years 4 to 8 (ie ages 8-13). Most of them are now mainstream schools as well: just over 1,000 of the 15,000 pupils at choir schools are actually choristers. Many, but not all, are open to both boys and girls. Some choir schools require their choristers to board, and some require them to be from families of a particular Christian denomination. Many have excellent reputations for outstanding music and high academic achievement.
Some chorister places are completely free, but others are subsidised by chapel or cathedral foundations and the degree of subsidy will vary. However, for the child who sings well, who really wants to be a chorister, and whose parents genuinely cannot afford the fees, there’s usually some level of help available. Talk to the admissions department at the choir school you’re considering.
Remember that a choristership is a huge commitment for children and their families. Choir schools do their utmost to give choristers the same school experience as their peers, but outside of the school day their schedule will be very busy. Early morning and weekend commitments are a given, and for schools attached to the major cathedrals an autumn term finish of 4pm on Christmas Day isn’t unlikely. Your child needs to be robust and resilient. But if he or she thrives on this kind of expectation, the experience can be unmatched.
Arts provision in mainstream schools
If the whole concept of specialist schools leaves you overwhelmed, it's worth remembering that there's some top-notch arts provision to be found in mainstream education. Many independent schools have superb facilities for the arts and a proud tradition of excellence. And though large parts of the state system are an artistic desert, there are oases of extraordinary achievement despite cuts in government funding. Always check out what your local school has to offer.
And it’s also worth noting that all the reviews on our website contain information about a school’s provision of music, dance and drama.
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