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At least 100 shows, plays, musicals and other performances are put on every year, all to an astonishingly high standard. ‘We go and see pretty much everything, whether our child is in it or not and they blow me away every time,’ said one parent, not untypically. Only half the school day is given over to academic lessons, which makes lessons ‘pretty intense’, albeit ‘nearly always engaging’ and ‘lively’, according to pupils. Pupils who fall behind are offered lunchtime clinics, extra sessions etc, although a pupil told us, ‘in the end, your...

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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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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, Stefan Anderson MA BMus ARCM ARCT. In his early 60s, Mr Anderson is a highly personable man with a big heart, uncontrived charm and a good dose of self-depreciating humour; surprisingly understated, all considering. A classically trained musician, he grew up in Toronto, Canada and attended Carleton University, Ottawa. 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 (his first ever) at Tring in 2002. ‘Didn’t think I’d end up in teaching,’ he laughs, ‘but here I am.’ Recalls standing in the hall on his first day watching the students run excitedly into school: ‘I thought, this isn’t normal’ – no wonder he’s been here so long. Doesn’t teach but can be regularly spotted in the dining room and around school.

Superlatives slip off the tongues of parents and pupils alike – ‘the best principal you could ask for,’ ‘the sweetest man’, ‘the most impressive educationalist I’ve come across in the performing arts sector’ etc. In short, adored and admired universally. ‘Just the right amount of gravitas and warmth,’ said one parent. ‘He knows every kid’s name.’ ‘He comes to all the performances and is involved in everything.’ ‘He knows the students – it isn’t just lip service’. Meanwhile, pupils told us, ‘You could ask him anything.’ ‘He’s always chatty and friendly, but very professional’. ‘’He’s incredibly understanding and supportive – there’s nothing insincere about him.’

Academic matters

Tring’s focus on academics is undoubtedly what makes it stand out against other schools of performing arts and results are proof that for the right children, the chance to do what they love actually enhances their academic performance. Many parents told us they selected Tring for precisely this reason. Pupils are selected solely on their performing abilities (all those who pass the audition sit an academic test, but only for diagnostic purposes) yet in 2019, 33 per cent of GCSE passes were 9-7 and A level results were 23 per cent A*/A and nearly 56 per cent A*/B. And no, these results are not made up exclusively of subjects such as drama and dance, they cover the full spread including sciences and languages, IT, history and geography. At A level, three are usually taken out of 23 on offer, except for dancers who supplement a third with the Trinity National Diploma in Dance. English, maths, physics and theatre studies are all popular.

Only half the school day is given over to academic subjects, which makes lessons ‘pretty intense’, albeit ‘nearly always engaging’ and ‘lively’, according to pupils. Pupils who fall behind are offered lunchtime clinics, extra sessions etc, although a pupil told us, ‘in the end, your level of engagement is left up to you, but there is a strong encouragement to take full advantage of what’s on offer’. For those in prep (years 4 to 6), vocational and academic lessons are mixed up throughout the day, while for remaining students it’s a morning of vocational and an afternoon of academics for years 7-9 and the other way round for years 10-12. A long day ‘and you can get tired’, pupils told us.

Around a third receive SEN support in either one-to-one or small group sessions, covering everything from minor difficulties with spelling to dyspraxia and mild autism. One parent said, ‘I can’t fault them – my daughter has learned some great coping strategies for her dyslexia and gets all the extra time she needs in exams.’

Those of us who remember the days when academic expectations were often consigned to an understudy role at stage schools 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. Past pupils have become medics and done PhDs.

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

If sport is important to your offspring, strike this school off your list. There’s no time for it and judging from the sweat dripping off the youngsters mid-dancing, your child will get all the exercise they need. With this in mind, we were surprised to spot a couple of football goals. ‘That’s my legacy,’ exclaimed an old boy (who stars in a Netflix series) who was visiting the same day as us – ‘I came from a sporty school and wanted a kickabout with other pupils’.

Everyone agrees the vocational training is phenomenal. ‘Unbelievable talent – you have to see it to believe it,’ said a parent. ‘The breadth of experience was the big selling point for us,’ said another. Children in the prep (years 4-6) all receive training in acting, singing and dancing. Thereafter, students specialise in either dance or performing arts. Dance training covers ballet, contemporary, tap and jazz; performing arts training includes both dance (less intensively) and acting, as well as voice, improvisation, and other aspects of theatre technique. And of course, there's musical theatre and singing too. In the sixth form students specialise in dance, musical theatre, acting or commercial music. 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. The chamber choir recently won BBC Young Choir of the Year – all the more impressive when you consider most of the singers are not on the music course. There is setting in dance – we watched a top set in action, a couple of the pupils having just finished a stint in Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet.

At least 100 shows, plays, musicals and other performances are put on every year, all to an astonishingly high standard. ‘We go and see pretty much everything, whether our child is in it or not and they blow me away every time,’ said one parent, while another told us, ‘Even the prep performances are polished and professional.’ No waving to mums and dads from the stage at this school.

Sometimes students have a chance to do external work - ballet dancers join English National Ballet for productions of The Nutcracker every year, for instance, while some pupils have received one-off opportunities which the head says it would be unfair to deny them. But 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. ‘In the end, the school wants you to have a childhood and education – I think they get the balance right,’ said a parent.

Art is offered at both GCSE and A level, with a reasonable uptake - fine art, textiles, photography and sculpting all a hit with the pupils in two new, light and bright (but not huge) studios.

Boarders

Full boarding (although in reality many sixth formers go home for weekends) available for 60 per cent of pupils whose eyes light up as they extol the virtues of living, training and being educated with the same people – life-long friendships in the making. For those that stay at weekends, there is at least one non-compulsory activity – shopping to Milton Keynes or London, theatre trips, ice skating etc, although others prefer to stay put for in-house baking, making use of those football nets etc. ‘There is an element of wanting to keep weekends less ordered because so much of their week is regimented,’ says head.

Facilities range from pretty basic (but refurbished) to the shiny (literally) new Elizabeth building with 70 beds and all the mod cons. ‘Elizabeth House aside, they are not dazzling, but fine and we all appreciate the work they’ve done to make them more homely’, said a parent. Largest dorm sleeps six, with most for two, three or four. One parent expressed surprise ‘that we had to wait until upper sixth for a single dorm’, while others said they’d like to see more integration between boarders and day pupils – ‘it could so easily be fixed,’ said one. Superb houseparents, report parents – ‘very supportive and nurturing’.

Background and atmosphere

Started life as 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 moved back to London but kept its Tring premises as a second school where boarders could be accommodated, and in 1947 both places were renamed 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 our tour kicked off to cries of 'Five, six, seven, eight, and right! Two, three, four, and left!' for a jazz warm-up, while Guys and Dolls mingled jauntily with a more demure strain from the ballet class next door. Performance, as you might imagine, is in the very bones of the place – ‘every time I walk in, there’s performing going on the whole time, even in the playground and in lessons, it’s so inspirational,’ said one parent.

For years, the mansion's grade II listed status hampered some necessary modernisation, but school now boasts an impressive array of recently-built dance studios, while the new copper and wood themed Elizabeth building is home to some contemporary drama and art teaching rooms. Academic teaching takes place in what’s known as the ‘new block’ (actually 1970s) with classic school décor, including three updated science labs. School has received funding for a bigger and better theatre to supplement the existing 176-seat Markova Theatre – as the head himself points out, the current stage space takes older male dancers a mere three leaps to get from one side to the other. The surrounding tree-studded gardens provide a tranquil backdrop to all the artistic fervour. Pupils would like more spaces dedicated to gym equipment and for day pupils to meet for a drink and snack.

Feathers do get ruffled occasionally, but ‘this is not a dog-eat-dog environment’, as one parent put it, with the school working hard to foster a supportive environment in which pupils are taught not to compare themselves to others, but to where they were last term. ‘Of course, when the cast list comes out, there is disappointment,’ we were told, ‘but you always see those with the principal roles comforting those that didn’t get chosen’ – this outward-looking ethos, along with a very strong work ethic, is what many directors and producers say singles Tring graduates out. ‘We’ve been to a lot of auditions where you see pupils from other schools being really competitive, while our lot just support each other,’ said one parent. ‘They develop them beyond just being performers so whether my daughter has a career in performing arts or not, they are giving her grit, determination and an ability to manage failure while at the same time being able to celebrate other people’s successes,’ said another.

School-parent communication on the up, but many feel it’s still their weakest point. ‘Sometimes messages come through very late in the day,’ said one, while another complained that, ‘because the school is predominantly boarding, they sometimes forget the day pupils in the communications’.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Behaviour at Tring is exuberant but respectful. There are the usual sanctions for infringements (including principal’s Saturday evening detention – although we can’t help wonder who that really punishes), but the students want to be here and are generally keen not to mess up. Permanent exclusions are almost unheard of, although there are temporary exclusions most terms; accrued merits make for a long list of prizes handed out on Founders’ Day.

A full-time counsellor is well utilised and although the school is praised for spotting and discouraging eating disorders, it does happen, especially among dancers – ‘if I was sending my child in as a ballet dancer, I’d be a bit concerned, despite all the school’s efforts,’ said one parent. Another parent felt the school could do more with the dancers around injury prevention and caring for your body – ‘some years do Pilates, some don’t, so it’s hit and miss. They need to do more work on, how do I look after this machine that is my body and which I’m going to be working extra hard?’

Pupils and parents

‘Not just rich kids,’ said a parent with an audible sigh of relief, ‘although we are still unusual in that we both work.’ Families from all over the UK and some from overseas (7.5 per cent of boarders), with EAL help for those who need it. Families who be new to boarding, or independent schools, or to the world of performing arts (some to all three), are nonetheless united by a common ardour. We found pupils (60/40 girls/boys) chatty, dedicated and polite; parents say you can almost measure their growth in confidence year on year, although one added, ‘it’s perhaps not for more fragile souls’. Reassuringly, the ‘in-your-face’, ‘me-me-me’ types are few and far between, although one parent felt that ‘the really strong personalities do get away with more’.

Entrance

Children can join the school from age 8 to 16, but the commonest entry points are at ages 11-13, 14 and 16. School receives around 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 dancing for winnable dancers and two out of three for everyone else. Applicants are also expected to evidence a strong motivation to learn.

Exit

Most continue on into the performing arts in one way or another. Around three-quarters go on to further performing arts training; others progress straight to major companies such as English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Scottish Ballet. Some join the school's own dance company, Encore, for a rigorous third year of touring and performing. ‘Because of the short shelf life of a dance career, they tend to peak early,’ says school.

Drama schools are a popular destination – Arts Ed London, Guildhall, Guildford School of Acting, Mountview, Bird College and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland among them. Tring also regularly turns out some good classical musicians, although invariably these are singers – recent singing alumni went on to train at Royal Northern Music and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Commercial Music students have continued on to the Institute of Contemporary Music, Berklee College of Music, etc.

Some pupils launch straight into professional jobs (Downton Abbey and Cinderella have mopped up several Tring alumni), while others take a bit longer to get their break, with past pupils having worked their way up to appearing in eg Peaky Blinders, Poldark and the Manchester Theatre Festival. A number go to university instead: Durham, Exeter, Kings College London, Leeds, and Royal Holloway, as well as overseas eg the Juilliard performing arts school in New York and University of Southern California in recent years. Interestingly, two of Tring’s dancers recently graduated as medics, having gone to uni in their late 20s.

Careers advice widely praised, ‘and they gear children up from quite an early age, encouraging them to get more and more strings to their bow regardless of their end goal’, according to a parent. Because it’s a dual curriculum, staff are good at balancing both academics and vocational skills into their guidance and many staff get involved – any one pupil might get direction from the director of musical theatre or dance, head of sixth form, director of academic studies and mentors, ‘so you get input from quite a few’, we were told.

Money matters

Stonkingly high fees, as you'd expect with all this specialist tuition, but around 40 per cent 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). 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

Like coming home for young theatrical souls, and they feel it the moment they walk through the door. A vocational school where joy de vivre is the beating heart, but where academics don’t play second fiddle. The upshot is an excellent and well-balanced education for all, provided they can hack the long, busy days.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

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
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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
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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