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BLOG: Annemarie Lewis Thomas…A Stamp Of Approval

Annemarie LewisFirstly massive thanks to all of you that shared and retweeted the mental health blog…for a novice blogger I’ve been led to believe that over 150 shares is rather good. It’s fitting that it’s now No 1 in my ‘Blog Parade’. So what to talk about next then eh? Running a college parents tend to want to know one of two things – what qualification does their child get at the end of the course and is the course accredited?

Now I have never made any bones about the fact that at The MTA you come out with a lovely diploma…but that diploma is simply some words printed on a piece of card, albeit on a lovely piece of card (we don’t even print them in the office…that’s how posh they are), but in essence the ‘diploma’ itself is worthless…just like the paper that my degree is printed on (my father isn’t on the internet so I haven’t just destroyed his dream) BUT what our diploma is symbolic of is priceless(although I guess it’s not…it’s whatever our course charges that year!). We hope that by putting our name on your CV as your place of training, production companies/casting directors/directors etc 100% know what they’re getting because you’ve been trained ‘The MTA Way’.

If you can land a triple pirouette or hit a top high C will they look or sound any better than if they were taught on a degree course or a diploma course? When you go into an audition room do casting directors ask to see your qualifications? Of course they don’t…they just want to see the ‘goods’. You could have a first class degree from ‘Oxbridge’ but if you ain’t hitting that top C and it says on your CV that you can, then the MD isn’t going to put you through just because you’re qualified to do it? As my faculty and students know I’m rather anti exams/assessments it’s just too scholastic for a vocational college. My students get ‘tested’ every time we put them through an audition (and we put them through A LOT of auditions) so exams are superfluous to our needs. We don’t do assessments as we’re so small we know exactly what progress each and every student should be making at any particular time (and we have a constant dialogue with them so that they’re aware if they’re not meeting those goals too).

Now accreditation is a whole different ball game. So for those of you not in the ‘know’ here’s a synopsis (settle down and focus)

There used to be a NCDT and they accredited courses (never schools…always courses) and there used to be a CDS…don’t even bother worrying about what the letters stand for…and one fine day in June 2012 they merged into Drama UK(some of the colleges belonged to the CDD too..but like I said…don’t worry about all the acronyms).

Like the NCDT before them Drama UK didn’t give a stamp of approval to schools just to courses…well that was until November 2013 when they finally worked out that it made more sense to give the stamp of approval to a college not a course (although check out the announcement on their website and it’s not very clear if they’re still accrediting courses at some places too…however you, like I was, will be relieved to discover that the launch of the new criteria coincided with the unveiling of the new logo for the organisation…sound the trumpets)

So all well and good I hear you cry…it’s good to have someone regulating the drama college industry…and on that point you’ll hear no complaints from me (off the top of my head I could reel off a list of places that I think should be closed immediately for not delivering a high enough standard of training). This accreditation lasts for 5 years, now I know that the colleges have to submit statistics to Drama UK within those 5 years but that’s an awfully long gap isn’t it to ensure that such a high standard is being maintained(&let’s not forget that the colleges themselves are providing on going statistics not an external verifier)? I mean this is the highest quality assurance that our industry provides and it’s only checked every 5 years??

Then there’s the Board…some brilliant people on that Board but also some people running the courses that you’ll be in competition with? Why would they let you into ‘the club’? Surely that doesn’t make any sense at all? Then there’s the cost…you have to pay to apply to become accredited and it don’t come cheap (here’s a question never answered – all the courses that automatically stayed with ‘the club’ when it became Drama UK did they re-apply under the new guidelines, paying the new charges or did their membership just go across with them, because surely setting yourselves up as the benchmark for training in the UK every member of the new club should have re-applied under the new guidelines?) I was advised (by a Board member of Drama UK interestingly enough) that the amount of paperwork that I would need to provide to meet their criteria probably meant that it wasn’t worth our while applying…and when myself and my team sat down and looked at it, they were absolutely right. I would have had to have taken myself (and my senior faculty) out of classes for a large percentage of the term to enable us to do the really important paperwork that would reassure the ‘powers that be’ that our students were getting great training???? You see we don’t do lesson plans….as we write the course every year for the group of students that we have to ensure that a) it’s relevant to their needs and b) it’s relevant to the industry TODAY (not last year when I wrote my lesson plan). Plus my staff are brilliant practical teachers…and I really do mean brilliant, I see the progress in my students daily, why the hell would I take them out of the studio, and put them on a computer and ask them to type some nonsense just to appease an organisation that I’m paying through the nose to join (who let’s not forget has my competitors on its Board??)

So…. (and this is how I make all of my decisions that have a financial implication)…I looked at the students who were struggling the most financially, and I worked out whether I would be right, spending the money that they’d earned by working every night after college, in an attempt to prove that I’m a good learning provider (irony anyone?) by taking my brilliant staff away from them and out of the studios and plopping them in front of a monitor to write what they should be teaching, or, would I be best keeping my staff where they’re brilliant, in the studio ensuring that those students were absolutely getting their monies worth every single moment of the college day by working with them?

I like to think that The MTA is a democracy though so I also called a college meeting with all the students, and all the senior faculty and gave them the facts and the figures (with no bias to my decision…as I was also aware that quite a few of the then students had received a lot of stick for daring to come to a non accredited college)….and I’m proud to say that every single person voted to spend our money on their training not in investing in joining ‘the club’. It’s an interesting dilemma though as ‘the club’ also gives you access to a lot more funding streams including DaDa awards (which of course had the potential to help the same students that I’d just been speaking about!), but, we collectively decided that we would let our statistics speak for our standard of work not the stamp from ‘the club’ and we would continue to look for financial supporters (which indeed we do to this day).

In 2012 we were named in The Stage 100 Awards as The School of the Year (that cost us nothing), if you go to our website and go to our ambassador page you can see what every single graduate is up to…you don’t have to wait 5 years….we publish our stats every day. The money that we’ve saved by not joining ‘the club’ has gone to help fund students in financial hardship, has provided the whole college with a membership to digital theatre…and so the list goes on. In other words we can all see where our money is going, our quality is evidenced by our statistics….why would pay to attempt to join ‘the club’?

My postscript to this having already decided way back when not to join ‘the club’ was when they put out an ‘exciting’ press release back in April 2013…this ‘club’ that cost a lot of money to join, one of their early innovations was to announce overseas showcases. I bet members of ‘the club’ were queuing up to volunteer to supervise their New York and LA showcases…possibly even more so than their London showcases. Good to know that they were thinking globally though, and even better to know that I wouldn’t have to explain to my student that was working every night after college and holding down a weekend job that their money was essentially being spent on a ‘club jolly’ for a few people.

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Glen Pearce. 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.