The Music and Dance Scheme

Posted on: 04 Jun 2014

By Jessica Ward, principal of Elmhurst School for Dance and Chair of the Music and Dance Heads Group.

Jessica Ward explains why funding in Music and Dance education has been frozen and what the Music and Dance Schools are doing about it...

Darcey Bussell, Lauren Cuthbertson and Nicola Benedetti are international stars, recognised as being among the very best dancers and musicians.

Their success is due, in part, to a little known government funded bursary scheme, the Music and Dance Scheme. Paid for by the Department for Education (DfE) it helps talented children, whatever their background, attend the very best Music and Dance Schools in the country.

‘Elite’, ‘exclusive’ ‘for rich kids only’ are words you often hear about vocational schools, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The Music and Dance Scheme was set up with the aim of educating and training children who are exceptionally talented in the two fields of music and dance, regardless of their background.

The Music and Dance Scheme may be little known, but it is an extraordinary and much-admired part of the UK’s education and training system. Indeed The Daily Telegraph described the scheme in 2012 as "one of things that should make you proud to be British. We are alone in the world in boasting a network of specialist music schools, offering general full-time education integrated with intensive instrumental training…”

There are eight Music and Dance Schools now in the Scheme, including Chetham's School of Music, Wells Cathedral School, the Purcell School, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Royal Ballet School, Elmhurst School for Dance, Tring Park School and the Hammond School.

In each of the schools, students work to a daily academic curriculum that revolves around musical or dance practice, education and training. Currently, all schools within the scheme have both day and boarding places. Through the training at these schools, Britain is proud to have developed world-class musicians and dancers who are at the forefront of their art and attract millions of visitors every year to our shores.

But government funding has been frozen for four years and meanwhile the Music and Dance schools struggle to meet rising costs. Four years of frozen MDS bursaries in effect means four years of frozen income. Unlike other independent schools, we cannot increase our fees in the face of ever-increasing costs. However, despite increasing financial pressures, the schools continue to deliver by constantly monitoring their expenditure and obtaining the best value for money from every pound spent.

Through a network with the catchy title of MDS Heads Group, the eight participating independent music and dance schools, along with the Head of St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, are working tirelessly to ensure that Britain’s most talented young people continue to be given equal access to the very best training, regardless of their background and ability to pay and assessed by talent alone.

Meeting termly to collaborate on best practice, most recently the group worked together to publish an advocacy document, Access to Excellence: the DfE’s Music and Dance Schools. The report raises awareness of the scheme and highlights the financial pressures which the Music and Dance Schools currently face.

The continuation and enhancement of the MDS scheme is vital for many dance and music students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to attend a full-time vocational establishment. Following a recent meeting with Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, the MDS Heads are working closely with the DfE to review the current funding arrangements and look to the future for a sustainable model.

‘As a Graduate of the Royal Ballet School I wholeheartedly support the Music and Dance Scheme,” says Darcey Bussell CBE. “Without it many talented young people would not be able to access the level of training required to become dancers of the future. The Scheme provides the UK with centres of excellence which can support exceptionally talented students from all backgrounds and we should do everything we can to preserve it.’


Some excerpts taken from Access to Excellence: The DfE’s Music and Dance Schools, Commissioned by the Heads of the MDS Schools with thanks to Robin Khiel To see the full report please click here.

Jessica Ward, Principal, Elmhurst School for Dance, Current Chair of the MDS Heads Group.

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