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How good is careers advice in secondary schools?

I recently heard Paul Rummer, principal of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, say publicly at a conference in London that schools need to provide much better advice to their students about careers in the arts - especially, by implication, theatre and performance arts.

A few days earlier I was at a meeting with Robert West, Education and Curriculum manager at National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural skills (what a mouthful!) and Martin Penny principal of Stratford-upon-Avon College. Both were critical of the quality of information given in schools to youngsters by people who, they said, know little or nothing about the industry.

When, a year or two ago, I interviewed Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House and Chairman of Creative and Cultural Skills he too told me that young people report all the time that the performing arts are rarely represented at generalist careers fairs.

So the same message seems to be coming from all directions - that careers teachers and advisers are selling performance industry inclined young people short possibly (probably?) because they simply don’t have the information or knowledge.

Certainly when I was teaching in a secondary school the drama department carefully nurtured and advised the promising students (but who knows how current their knowledge was?) while the careers people cultivated a blinkered don’t-put-your-daughter-on-the-stage-Mrs Worthington attitude and ignored them.

If this is a true picture of the situation it is very worrying. Jobs in general are hard to come by at present. Yet the performing arts aren’t, relatively speaking, doing too badly. Witness the encouraging 2008 West End attendance figures. And there is a skills shortage in backstage work. The industry needs more technicians, administrators, front of house staff and so on.

So careers advisers should be helping young people to make connections. If you like theatre and have a bent for carpentry then scenery building could be the job for you. Handy with a needle? Consider costume making. Interested in hair dressing? What about wig making?

Too often, it seems these things are not pointed out. Or are they? Perhaps I’m getting a distorted picture. So I’d love to hear your experience of, and views on, the careers advice you got, or are getting, in school.

4 Comments

I'm now working for a private school in Bath as the resident theatre technician.

I am delighted to say that we have a career's advice evening next week and, just like previous years, one of the stalls manned is for employment in the entertainment industry.

It was my experience also at school, that the valid career option that theatre presents was over looked, despite at least 4 consecutive years of students making their way into this arena.

The problem was magnified by the emplyment service (job centre) who, when filing in a job search for stage management, could only offer theatre manager on their paperwork. I'm glad to say this is no longer the case.

I left secondary school several years ago now but I remember that while there were a lot of careers resources for pupils to research careers for themselves, there was little in the way of one-to-one advice given by the school.

I found this article very relevant having just helped my son get on to an NCDT approved technical theatre degree course. We only found out about courses outside the UCAS system by chance and when 'through the door' found little assistance in managing the process. His tutors at our local college where he is doing a BTEC in technical theatre were not able to help and the area where we live is well away from the bright lights and anyone else who had been through the process. We found it very time consuming, expensive and at times at least for me quite soul destroying. Three years ago my daughter wanted to do costume design but never got to know about the drama school route and is now finishing an uninspiring 3 years at uni with no job prospects and I feel guilty she never had the chance my son is having. The school she used to attend is very good on the music side so that department knew about music/drama schools but this was never thought of as relevant to other departments in the school so the knowledge was not shared.

Blog readers might be interested to know that we are looking to set up a regular series of careers information events (aimed initially at Year 9 pupils)that raise awareness of career opportunities backstage and offstage in theatre. However I am also aware that there's a job to be done to ensure those who work with young people (staff in schools and related organisations such as Connexions)are also given opportunities to update their Information, Advice and Guidance knowledge.

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