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Tring's results are proof that for the right children, the chance to do what they love actually enhances their academic performance. Tring isn't a stage school in the old-fashioned sense, as the pupils were eager to point out, but a heady mix of high-level vocational and academic education, where the two strands rub together to produce very bright sparks. Believe it or not, Tring had actually played a football fixture shortly before we visited. They lost 11-0. 'But,' assured the head, 'we played with great passion.' Students do get together for…

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What the school says...

Tring Park School for the Performing Arts is a school of excellence which specialises in the performing arts, dance, musical theatre and drama. We provide a full and first class academic education for all our pupils with the aim of making them them educated performers and giving them the opportunity to pursue careers both inside and outside the field of performing arts. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Boys taking Drama & Theatre Studies at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Dance at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Excellent performance by Girls taking Drama & Theatre Studies at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Film Studies at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Dance at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Drama & Theatre Studies at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Other features

Music and dance scheme - government funding and grants available to help with fees at selected independent music and dance schools.

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Performing arts specialist school

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since 2002, Mr Stefan Anderson MA BMus ARCM ARCT. Fifties, single, no children. A highly personable man whose Boris Karloff-like photo on the school's website in no way reflects his immense charm and humour. A classically trained musician, he grew up in Canada and attended Carleton University, Ottawa; then moved to the UK and studied at the Royal College of Music and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was an organ scholar. He spent 12 years at Wellington as assistant director of music, then seven years as director of music at King's Canterbury, before taking up the principal's post at Tring in 2002. Very much involved in education nationally: an executive director of the Boarding Schools Association, and a trustee of the National Schools Symphony Orchestra. Universally liked and admired by parents and pupils. 'I think he's wonderful. He's absolutely spot on with the kids,' said one mother. 'They all respect him, but they can have a laugh with him,' said another. 'Kind and courteous and very professional,' pronounced a third. 'Makes time for you, easy to deal with, very helpful and very fair,' added a fourth. 'He's brilliant, a character,' said a father, 'There's a great fun side to him.' The feeling is clearly mutual. 'I love it here!' Mr Anderson affirmed. 'The students can be high-maintenance, but it's never dull.'

Academic matters

Tring's results are proof that for the right children, the chance to do what they love actually enhances their academic performance. Only half the school day is given over to academic lessons, and the students here are selected solely on their performing abilities (if they pass the audition, applicants sit academic tests for diagnostic purposes), yet results just keep getting better. In 2016, 34 per cent of GCSE passes were A*/A. You could be forgiven for wondering if these results were made up of non-academic subjects such as drama and dance, but no: they cover the full spread including sciences and languages. In 2016, A level results were 32 per cent A*/A and 56 per cent A*/B, and 77 per cent got D or D* in BTec performing arts. Solid spread of academic subjects offered includes English lit, French, German, RS, history, geography, IT, and all the sciences. 'We push the academic side hard,' confirmed the head, who was brought in to improve Tring's profile in that area. Active and successful learning support department caters for wide variety of SEN, and roughly a quarter of students have either one-to-one or small group support. Parents report themselves very happy with the provision. One mother whose child has dyscalculia reported, 'She really struggles with maths, but she's had excellent support.' A boy with dyslexia told us, 'I've never had so much help as I've had here.' 'The support for dyslexia is brilliant,' said a father.

Those of us who remember the days when stage school was more often than not a byword for poor education can only marvel. But then Tring isn't a stage school in the old-fashioned sense, as the pupils were eager to point out, but a heady mix of high-level vocational and academic education, where the two strands rub together to produce very bright sparks. The former head boy has gone off to Manchester to read medicine, and one Tring alumna, a physicist, has recently started her doctorate. As the director of studies, herself a Cantabrigian, put it: 'It's very exciting working with students who are engaged and passionate with their lives. There's a joie de vivre here that spills into academic lessons.' That said, it's important to remember that this is a vocational school, one of only eight such in the UK funded by the DfE as centres of excellence for exceptionally talented young dancers and musicians. Tring's remit is to produce highly-trained performers who've received a rounded education; not lawyers and doctors who like hoofing.

Games, options, the arts

Believe it or not, Tring had actually played a football fixture shortly before we visited. They lost 11-0. 'But,' assured the head, 'we played with great passion.' Students do get together for an informal kickabout, or walk down the High Street to the local swimming pool, but there are no organised games on Tring's timetable, because there isn't time for them. Instead, half of every weekday is given over to vocational training, and, say parents and students alike, it's amazing. 'Equal to the very best available in this country,' said one parent. 'Inspirational!' said another. 'Second to none, absolutely fabulous,' said a third. 'My son's physical fitness has improved dramatically,' said a fourth. And everyone else said something similar.

Children in the prep (years 4-6) receive training in acting, singing and dancing. Thereafter, students specialise in either dance or theatre arts. Dance training covers ballet, contemporary, tap and jazz; drama training does pretty much the same, but less intensively and also covers voice, improvisation, and other aspects of theatre technique. And of course there's musical theatre and singing too. Tring isn't a specialist music school - aspiring concert pianists would feel frustrated at having to break off and jeté every time they'd sat down to practice - but the music department is strong, with several excellent choirs and all students given the chance to learn instruments and play in ensembles.

Packed programme of shows, plays, musicals and other performances throughout the year, all of them done to an astonishingly high standard. Sometimes students have a chance to do external work - ballet dancers regularly join English National Ballet for productions of The Nutcracker, for instance - but not that often. The school doesn't encourage students to be absent, and children wanting a school that will act as their agent and find them regular professional work should look elsewhere.

Boarders

With limited space and funds, the boarding provision was only rated 'satisfactory' by Ofsted in 2011, and we have to say we thought it pretty basic; we saw seven girls to a room, for instance. On the other hand, the 9-12 year old girls in question didn't seem bothered. 'It's fun! Like we're one big family! And if we're having a row, the houseparents sort it out and then we're all best friends again!' Pupils are encouraged to do what they think will make their quarters nice: thus the girls' accommodation was a profusion of heart-shaped pink fluffiness, whilst the boys' was as fresh and tidy as you'd expect rooms shared by multiple boys to be. New boarding accommodation planned to start in 2018. Feedback about the food was very mixed, with a number of parents expressing anxiety about how much and how healthily their children were eating, and several stories of boarders needing to pop into town to fortify themselves at McDonald's (a behaviour not confined to Tring students, of course). We ourselves were given a pleasant and nutritionally-balanced meal in the canteen, so it’s impossible to comment on this further.

Background and atmosphere

Today’s Tring grew out of the Cone Ripman School, founded in 1939 and itself the result of a merger between two previous dance schools. Originally located in London, the outbreak of war forced a move to Tring where the school shared premises with the Rothschild Bank at Tring Park Mansion House (strange bedfellows they must have been). In 1941, the school was able to move back to London but kept its Tring premises as a second school where boarders could be accommodated, and in 1947 both places were re-named the Arts Educational School, to reflect Grace Cone's and Olive Ripman's commitment to a proper academic education for their stage-struck charges. Gradually the two schools diverged, with London becoming more focused on post-18 training, while Tring continued to develop as a vocational boarding school. Eventually they became completely independent and in 2009 the Tring school changed its name to Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, in order to avoid confusion with its former partner. Originally for girls only, one boy was admitted in 1993, 'and that opened the floodgates'.

Still housed in the gorgeously flamboyant mansion in which it took refuge over 70 years ago, Tring Park School literally sings with activity and joy. Half the stunning wood-panelled entrance hall is glazed off as a dance studio, and we arrived amidst cries of 'Five, six, seven, eight, and right! Two, three, four, and left!', while Guys and Dolls mingled jauntily with a more demure strain from the ballet class next door. Everywhere we looked, we saw children enjoying themselves and eager to tell us so. 'Life here is amazing!' 'You get here and everyone has something to give!' 'Everyone's really welcoming!' 'It's so creative!' 'It just makes you want to dance more, being here. You get to see everyone's talent!' 'You have more time here for what you love, you're more connected!' twittered a group of frankly adorable young things. Parents agree. 'If you have a non-academic child, as we have, the enthusiasm and the passion motivates them to do better at everything. Our son loves it, he absolutely thrives on it,' said one mother. Another commented, 'The children are lovely, all so dedicated, and it really is like a family,' adding, 'When my husband and I are walking round the school, we wish we were there!' 'Every child comes out with poise and confidence from that place, they all know how to present themselves.'

The mansion's Grade II listed status has hampered some necessary modernisation - it took years to get planning permission for Wifi to be installed - but the school boasts an impressive array of newly-built dance studios. It has also received funding for an even bigger and better theatre to supplement the existing 176-seat Markova Theatre, while the new art centre will move from the site of Baron Rothschild's zebra cage to a new home next to the theatre. The surrounding tree-studded gardens provide a tranquil and soothing backdrop to all the artistic fervour.

Feathers do get ruffled occasionally. 'Inevitably at a school like this, there is competition, and I think there should be,' said one level-headed student. But everyone we spoke to insisted that the school also fostered care and affection amongst its students. 'We've always been taught not to compare ourselves to others, but to where we were last term,' said one sixth-former. 'If their best friend gets the part, the others still give her a hug,' said one mother. Another said, 'There is no real jealousy or one-upmanship over talent, and good performances are widely praised and discussed between pupils.'

Parents were less starry-eyed about school-parent communication, and everyone we spoke to agreed that it needed improving. 'Communications are not all they should be,' was a very typical criticism; 'they could be more regular and more informative.' Another said bluntly, 'We pay a hell of a lot of money for our child to go to Tring, and if I send an email I expect an answer.' The head acknowledged these criticisms with candour. 'I would absolutely agree. We need to upgrade our facilities so that we can have a parent portal. We email things weekly, but we don't have a newsletter as such. We have plans - our aim is to get a new iSAMs system (school information software). Staff are extremely busy here, but that doesn't excuse it, and I take it on board.' A new appointment, head of careers, was made recently to address concerns that families weren't getting enough information and help with students' UCAS applications.

We also heard disquiet from parents whose children hadn't been allowed to take the course of their choice at 14+ or 16+ after having already spent two or more years at the school. Specifics weren't forthcoming, but we gathered that this particularly applied to those with aspirations to a career in dance. 'This can be a more difficult adjustment than the school acknowledges, and it's you the parent who has to deal with your child's disappointment,' wrote one worried mother. But as other parents observed, a career in the performing arts is tough, and the head was adamant that the school always put the child's best interests first. 'I would dispute very strongly that we block anyone, but we try to get the child onto the course where we feel they'll succeed. If someone has unrealistic expectations, we speak to the child and to the parents. But 95 per cent of the time, parental, child and school expectations match up.' The great majority of parents we spoke to agreed. As one mother wrote, 'Tring provides a very supportive network for students who are struggling or who change their minds about whether vocational training is for them.' Another said simply, 'The support given by Tring's staff is exceptional. Our son is very happy there, and flourishing beyond our imagination.'

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

To a person, parents praised Tring's pastoral care, with the boarding staff particularly singled out. 'The housemother was wonderful, and my son settled in really quickly,' 'A houseparent in a million' 'The houseparents are so switched on,' ''The houseparents comfort you if you're homesick!' 'They're amazing! They do so much for us!' were typical comments. The medical unit was also very highly rated: 'Informs you immediately if there are any problems,' 'The medical staff were exceptional,' 'Both pastoral and medical care have always been exemplary.'

Behaviour at Tring is exuberant but respectful. There are the usual sanctions for infringements, but the students want to be here and are generally keen not to mess up. Many parents commented on the children's excellent work ethic, and one boy added, 'My time management has become fantastic since starting here. You really do become reliable, hard working, responsible. You have to work hard.'

Pupils and parents

From a very broad range of backgrounds, and from all over the UK. Some from overseas (around 10 per cent of boarders), and EAL help is there for those who need it. Many of them new to boarding, or to independent schools, or to the world of performing arts, but all of them united by a common ardour. Inevitably, there are more girls than boys, with the current ratio being more than 2:1. Do the boys mind? 'No, because I'm friends with all the boys in my year,' said one young lad, 'and my confidence with girls has increased!'

Entrance

Children can join the school from age 8 to 16, but the commonest entry points are at ages 11-13, 14 and 16. Applications are increasing, particularly at 16+, and overall the school receives seven applications for every place. One-day audition process at which children show what they can do in dance, drama and singing. They aren't expected to excel in all three of these - although many do - but the school is looking for great talent and potential in the candidate's chosen specialism, 'and they have to show a real desire to learn,' says head. If they're successful in gaining a place but need funding to take it up, they're called to a second audition.

Exit

The majority of students continue on into the performing arts in one way or another. A few dance stars progress straight to major companies such as English National Ballet and Scottish Ballet; others might join the school's own dance company, Encore, for a rigorous third year of touring and performing, or take up places at dance schools such as The Place. Drama schools are also a popular destination: Laine Theatre Arts, Bristol Old Vic, etc. 'And we regularly turn out some good classical musicians,' adds head, although invariably these are singers - one recent alumna went on to train at The Royal Academy of Music and has already appeared with Garsington Opera and Opera North. Some go straight into professional work (Downton Abbey has mopped up several Tring alumni). And a number decide to go to university instead: one sixth former we spoke to was waiting to hear back from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where she'd applied to read history. One medic in 2016 and one off to Boston Conservatory.

Much praise from parents and pupils alike for the way Tring supports and guides students' career aspirations. 'I'd love to get a job in a ballet company,' said one young male dancer, 'but my body doesn't work that way, I'm not flat-turned-out. But the teachers work with you to find other ways you can do things, and they're brilliant.' A parent whose son was now at college told us, 'He knows he can still call on Tring for help and advice, a relationship he really values.'

Money matters

Stonkingly high fees, as you'd expect with all this specialist tuition, but around one third of students are on some kind of support. Dancers who join the school at age 11, 12 or 13 can apply for funding from the government's means-tested Music and Dance Scheme. Dance students joining at 16+ may be eligible for DaDA scholarships (Dance and Drama Awards, another source of government funding). And Tring has its own scholarship fund for musical theatre and drama pupils, to which families can apply. Many Tring students come from families on modest or low incomes. Up to 100 per cent assistance available for those who need it.

Our view

An extremely impressive vocational school that gives its students an excellent and well-balanced education. Children for whom the performing arts are central to their existence will feel they've come home the moment they walk through the door. As one mother whose daughter had been there eight years said, 'We cannot fault it. She's had a wonderful time, and the training has been amazing. Her work ethic is fantastic, she's very well-prepared for auditions, she's made friends for life, and she's grown into a wonderful young lady.'

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Special Education Needs

Parents should note that entry to The Arts Educational School, Tring, is by audition and is determined solely on the basis of talent and potential in dance, drama or singing. Individual learning support lessons in English and mathematics are available for pupils if required. Oct 09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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