Stage work deserves round of applause

13th February 1998 at 00:00
As the recently-retired headteacher of Ravenscourt Theatre School I write to redress a less than balanced picture given by your report on abuse of child labour (TES, January 30) and the BBC2 documentary First Sight which focused on our theatre schools.

In many instances pupils' earnings are considerable. I was surprised and, frankly, sceptical to hear of a child who only earned Pounds 45 for 45 hours of work.

Of course, the real value of the professional jobs is that they provide the only kind of work experience which, in the theatrical profession, can be authentic. I thought, by the way, that work experience was now viewed positively? Our schools really are vocational schools which, while non-tax supported, serve young people who are interested in acting, dancing, stagecraft and so on. We always accommodate a number of children whose academic capacity is slender but can express themselves beautifully through the performing arts.

The good theatre schools are exactly like the great choir schools for which England is famous. The kind of music they perpetuate is one of two art forms in which we as a country excel. The other is theatre.

Those who choose to teach English, maths, information technology, Latin et al in such schools must, and do, to be sure, defend their corner against dedicated teachers of ballet, jazz dancing, tap dancing, acting or make-up or, equally, against a demanding Master-of-the-Choristers faced at short notice with a major funeral at which Royal personages will be present.

HMIis a valuable ally.

To pursue the analogy - few boy choristers, including some whose voices have sold a million records, will earn their living as adult performers. The rest may become bank clerks and, on Sundays, stalwarts of their church choir. What is wrong with that?

Similarly, the stage school alumnus might not be in the same league as Dennis Waterman, Nicholas Lyndhurst or Francesca Annis (just some of Ravenscourt's graduates). But he or she may well have become a great sales person, or be working toward a degree in English and drama to become a teacher, or simply be a real asset in the local amateur dramatic society. Is that so dreadful?

In conclusion, theatre school children enjoy performing professionally. The suggestion that that is wrong needs to be established rather than merely asserted.

So much of worth in our rich educational spectrum has been destroyed by over-anxious reformers; they need to be resisted.

THE REV ROBERT D BLAKELY

21 Kiln Lane, Headington Oxon

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