How long is too long to be training? Well in reality we are essentially training our whole lives, aren’t we? We are forever the student trying to hone our skills and develop new ones.

In the US it’s standard practice to do a 4-year undergraduate course. The UK has traditionally always adhered to a 3-year model (working in terms not semesters), then of course in 2009 I popped up with The MTA and completely challenged that again fast-tracking the training into a 2-year model.

However back in the early noughties, the UK started up this thing called a foundation course (apologies if they’ve been running for longer, but that’s certainly the time that I started to notice them popping up). I guess for the bigger colleges it made financial sense. You’re seeing people for your 3-year course who are blatantly not quite ready, but with a bit more training, using the resources that you’re already paying for, you could get them ready for a 3-year course (potentially). Then lots of other people saw a sensible business model for purely training pre-undergraduates and a group of independent colleges suddenly opened.

So maybe we really did need to be doing a 4-year course after all – just like the US system?

Foundation courses and colleges quickly moved into mainstream thinking when it came to planning your future career. All the courses varied, some running in the evenings, some over concentrated periods, but all essentially training you to er, train.  

Over the years we’ve accepted lots of students that have had some sort of pre-training, and there are certainly some foundation courses that we inherently ‘trust’, insomuch as their students invariably always seem to be ready by the time that we see them for the audition. So they’re clearly doing what they say on the packet. Then there are the students that we’ve rejected in one year, who’ve gone away, done some further training and have come back to us the following year and we’ve accepted them without hesitation – so a big yay to the training that they’ve received in that year.

However, I do have a couple of serious concerns around it all. 

The foundation course is entirely focussed on getting students ready for a traditional undergraduate programme which runs Sept – July (or in our case Oct – Sept), yet their courses all run to the same academic calendar year, meaning that they’ve started training in Sept, and within 3 months they’re likely to be applying for their undergraduate course. Surely it would make more sense for the foundation course to run something like Jan – Nov? That way people that had got rejected have got time to look around for the best foundation course for them, they would have 10 months of training behind them before they’ve started to apply to other colleges?

As all the foundation courses are supposed to be preparing you for further training, you would be surprised at how many of them actually discuss all the options available to students. Some are great and seem to get all the colleges in to do some sort of outreach, or their course leader will be calling us to ensure that they have the right information for entry onto our course. However, some of them are purely fixated on the more established colleges.  That’s always struck me as a bit elitist and even slightly gate keeperish. The number of colleges that we’ve approached annually to ask to speak to their students about the 2-year model and have had our request ignored is actually quite shocking.  Even more shocking when you look at our stats – we have a 10-year track record for getting all of our students out into the industry with agent rep, so regardless of your personal feelings, our results speak for themselves. A 2-year model works – but those pathways stay blocked (until one rogue class member comes to auditions for us and tells all of their friends about their experience)

Then there’s the issue of brand awareness. Lots of young performers grow up knowing that they only want to really train in the one college. Their dream college. Their entire focus is on that dream. They’ve gone to see shows and keep seeing ‘that name’ in the programme, they believe that this is the only place that will get them industry-ready.  The big audition comes but they’re not accepted on the dream course BUT they do get offered a place at the college, but on their foundation course. Here’s the rub. In my experience, a lot of the people that get offered foundation courses at the major colleges would probably get straight offers onto a 3 year training programme at another college. Over the years we’ve auditioned lots of people from one of the ‘major colleges’ foundation courses, and we’ve pretty much been able to accept them all. You could of course argue that the larger college had done an exceptional job in training them ready to be . . . er, trained, or you could hypothesise that they were always ready to be trained somewhere (just not their ‘dream college’).

Over the years I’ve always been amazed by people who have turned down offers at ours and at other really reputable drama colleges because they’ve also been offered a foundation course at their ‘dream school’ – such is the draw of the ‘dream’. A concept that our industry thrives on. A quick caveat here that of course not all courses are suitable for all students, so 100% people should be turning down places on courses that they know that they wouldn’t thrive at. . . but that’s very different by being blindsided by ‘the dream’.

Now these foundation courses do not come cheap. Training performers is expensive. Yet suddenly parents are paying out for this additional course in the hope of what? That their child will be accepted onto their ‘dream course’ – whereas in reality from what I’ve heard, all the colleges are really honest about the fact that their foundation course is not a guaranteed pathway onto their main course. Even more than that it would be fascinating to find out the percentage of people that actually do go from a foundation course straight onto the undergraduate course, as from hearsay it doesn’t seem as high as you’d expect.

I understand that some people opt for the foundation course as they believe that they’ll be more likely to secure funding such as an elusive DaDa so they believe that the cost of the foundation course is essentially an investment – but of course DaDas are hard to come by, and the majority of people just end up spending a load of money that they haven’t got before needing to find a load more money that they haven’t got. It strikes me as a very risky gamble and with foundation courses costing anything from £6k to £10k this is not a cheap gamble.

So do foundation course work? 100% yes, but are some students paying out on an additional year unnecessarily – absolutely. Surely after paying out for a foundation year that student should be guaranteed a place on a course . . . somewhere. You should only be taking the students that you can clearly see have the potential to train but who are just falling short in one area. 

We should be seeing stats from all colleges about progression (which I’ve been shouting about for bloody years). I believe that students should be applying for foundation courses, not being offered them as the consolation prize (as that plays into the false promise, albeit unwittingly), and of course . . . I believe that all auditions should be free, which would allow students to apply for a wider range of colleges, which might open their eyes to other possibilities.