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OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – Who regulates the regulators?

Annemarie LewisBack last June I wrote this blog about my cynicism around the whole accreditation system in the UK. In the last 11 months I have to say that Drama UK have done nothing at all to make me feel any different, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that I feel stronger about it being a dinosaur today than I did back then.

At the beginning of the year when I first started to attempt to get other drama colleges to follow our model of putting mental health welfare firmly at the centre of their welfare packages, Drama UK, after I challenged them on twitter, admitted that they did nothing to enforce change on their members. You might recall that this was immediately after Louise Grainger from Equity had come out and said that drama colleges had a responsibility to prepare its graduates better for the industry, after the much-lauded Arts and Minds survey. That said…I say much lauded, none of the organisations that organised the survey have done a damn thing to enforce new practice, so may Drama UK are keeping up with the industry!

Over the past few weeks, there have been some shocking reviews of Showcases, from well established, accredited drama colleges. One, in particular, sounded like the students taking part should be currently consulting with compensation lawyers to establish if they had a case. Showcase Lawyers For U, is a potential money spinner out there for any lawyers reading this. Forget the ‘injury’ market – this one is probably much more lucrative. Surely the Drama UK army must have stormed into that college the day after to find out exactly what had gone wrong, after all, this was a college that had their ‘stamp of approval’? A Michelin starred restaurant can as quickly lose its coveted star if the standard suddenly drops – shouldn’t that be the case for an accredited drama college?

I can only think of one college in the last 20 years that has publicly lost its accreditation status over slipping standards. A fact to be proud of if it wasn’t for the fact that I could name a further three colleges off the top of my head that equally dropped the ball for a bit, but never lost their seal of approval. In other words, once you’re in ‘the club’ you appear to be rather safe. Maybe that’s what you’re paying for – an invincible (and invisible) shield, protecting you from the outside forces of criticism?

Yet on the other side of things I’ve read (and heard) some wonderful reviews of unaccredited colleges, consistently doing great things out there. A case in point for me would be LSMT. My timeline was full of praise for their recent production of Redhead, yet LSMT, like The MTA, is resolutely independent.

I guess that my point is the same as always. This accreditation lark is out dated and irrelevant and is simply trading off its own history, yet with no published statistics to back up its claim of being the club of the ‘elite’. More and more of the establishments within the club are living off the reputations of their past – but surely that can only last for so long?

I see on forums parents telling each other to only look at the accredited colleges because of course it’s a minefield out there with lots of smaller colleges hustling for your money. So the colleges within Drama UK must be the best – but increasingly the evidence is suggesting that this just isn’t true. If you go onto our FaceBook page or check through our Twitter feed you will see that we regularly publish a table, comparing our stats with the stats most recently published by Drama UK. Drama UK have not verified their survey at all, whereas you could happily go through our ambassador pages on our website and check out our stats for yourself. We prove categorically that our graduates are more likely to work than a graduate from one of the ‘elite’ colleges and more than that, we actually publish our stats, so you can check them out for yourself. Why doesn’t every college have a degree of transparency that could allow potential students and parents to make an informed choice?

Over the past year alone four people have approached me independently, asking me to join with them to either discuss an alternative to Drama UK or in one instance to actually help them establish an alternative organisation. If I had a few extra hours in the day I might well have been tempted.

The drama college industry needs regulating (doesn’t everything?), but it needs to be an effective regulation. There’s an increase in people opening drama colleges, some are really experienced practitioners who will no doubt open brilliant colleges, using their network of industry professionals to create some exciting faculties, however some are definitely amateurs with dubious faculties, and even more dubious courses.

  • Why are accredited colleges permitted to just keep adding courses, and under the current system, these courses are automatically accredited – because it is now colleges that are accredited not the individual courses? Surely every course should be rigorously tested before being endorsed by an organisation like Drama UK?
  • Why are student numbers shooting up, while contact hours are slipping away under anomalies called private study time, or reading weeks?
  • Where is the policy on pastoral care for these so-called elite colleges? Shouldn’t the organisation that oversee them be able to insist on a certain level of care?
  • Why aren’t Drama UK investigating the ongoing question of whether or not some colleges are running auditions purely as a revenue stream?
  • Why don’t these elite colleges freely give you the important information like what ALL of their graduates are currently doing, how many of them are still in the industry…empowering you to know the facts before you spend in excess of £27,000.

Being established for X amount of years is brilliant, and of course says so much about your staying power in a tough old industry, but shouldn’t you also be transparent – proudly showing that in spite of running for X number of years you are still getting consistent results? It’s very easy to pluck out a soundbite fact, but surely your customers deserve the full picture to make an informed decision?

No regulating body should ever get complacent, as very quickly that complacency will trickle down into its ranks into the coal face(my Welsh heritage comes to the fore in this metaphor). Drama UK needs to get with it, and be proactive, and enforce an industry standard that is constantly being spot checked, if it’s to stand a chance of surviving in this highly competitive market.

There needs to be some joined up thinking around drama school training in the UK, but this will only happen when the people that built themselves a pedestal to stand on (and then charged people to stand on it with them)…start realising that their own establishments are chipping away at that very pedestal,making them increasingly unsafe. Speaketh the person clearly looking for the right stone to make my own pedestal.

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.