The Sylvia Young Theatre School is the most famous and prestigious performing arts school in the United Kingdom.
Variously described as the “Eton of the Pop Idol generation”, the “Oxbridge of theatre schools”, the school has an extraordinary reputation for the near bankable slipstream into theatre, music, and television it provides for its pupils, whilst also delivering strong academic performance up to GCSE.
Notable alumni include Amy Winehouse, Emma Bunton, Rita Ora, Leona Lewis, Sophie Lawrence, Denise Van Outen, Billie Piper, Kara Tointon, Tom Fletcher, Matt Willis, Vanessa Whyte, Nathan Sykes, Daniella Westbrook, Nicola Stapleton, Dean Gaffney, Letitia Dean, Nicole Appleton, Nick Berry, Samantha Janus, Dani Behr, and Jenna Russell.
Since 2010 the Theatre School has been based in a £3.5M conversion of an iconic and imposing 19th century church in the heart of London, with 10 state-of-the-art air conditioned dance studios (each with fully sprung floors, piano, and sound system), studio theatre, performance spaces, art and recording studios, IT workshop, acoustically balanced music rooms, science laboratories, library, as well as the famous in-house Sylvia Young talent agency to represent its students' professional development into the worlds of commercial music, theatre, dance, and television outside the school.
The school is within walking distance of London’s theatres, enjoys excellent travel links to the UK via Marleybone, and is within 30 minutes of Heathrow and London City airports.
Interestingly the school has no PE curriculum – the intensely physical dance, drama, and music programs balance this out. This does mean however that the school does not have the sporting facilities of its more academic and traditional English public school counterparts.
With its central London location, unsurprisingly, this is not a school for parents seeking lush playing fields or Olympic swimming pools (although swimming is taught in Year 6 elsewhere).
Whilst there has been long term discussion of developing a Sixth Form, the size of the school, with just 250 students, limits the scale of investment such would require – and there are no plans to damage the family atmosphere and intimacy, seen as a key element of Sylvia Young’s exclusivity and success, by growing the school further.
Whilst entrance to the Sylvia Young Theatre School is not academically selective, the audition process is designed to reveal vocational talent – vocationally, this is a highly selective school. However, the school is looking as much for raw as developed talent (whether in music, dance, singing, or acting) and weight is placed on those prospective students who will “fit” and for whom a place at the school is likely to be a success.
In practice, the demand for places, with up to 16 applications for each of the 40 places on offer each year, means that only exceptionally gifted children are likely to secure a place. The knock-on effect of this competition is that academic ability may swing the balance between equally gifted prospective pupils.
Entrance success is decided primarily by application form, audition, and interview. Whilst entrance is possible at 10 years old (Year 6), entrance for international pupils who require boarding is only available from age 11 (Year 7) when competition is at its most intense. Initial consideration is through application form, school report, and, ideally, reference. You are then invited to a “Workshop Audition” for group work in dance, singing, and acting/drama, sight reading of a short passage, and a short written assignment. Those who are successful at this first stage are called back for a second audition including two acting pieces, a song and a dance in front of judges, and more extensive academic tests in English and mathematics.
Interestingly, talent does not have to be in every area; those who have not been taught dance formally, for example, will have a modified audition to ascertain the applicant’s ability and potential to learn dance steps.
Once accepted, the school has a distinct and highly successful approach to balancing the demands of an academic education with its specialism in the performing arts. Each child’s academic education is carried out for the first three days of the week between Monday and Wednesday, whilst vocational education takes place on Thursday and Friday.
In practice this means that pupils learn in three days what many schools deliver over 5. This is achieved through the quality of teaching, the commitment of pupils, removing formal lessons in PE and PHSE from the syllabus, and taking two subjects, Expressive Arts and a core science, in one year. 9 GCSEs in total are taken by all students.
Core subjects are Drama, a core science (taken in Year 10), an additional science, English language, English literature, Expressive Arts (taken in Year 10), and mathematics. Two options are chosen from media studies, art, music, history, and Spanish. Impressively, these are combined with vocational qualifications from LAMDA (Acting, Verse, Prose); RAD Ballet; in-house dance – contemporary, jazz, and tap; music production, singing, and performance.
Unlike most if not all similarly sized schools, the Sylvia Young Theatre School does have genuine scholarship provision. A full and two half-fee scholarships are offered each year (excluding boarding) and bursary help is available by negotiation with the school according to need. Help with boarding fees however is not provided, as boarding is provided with accredited home-stay families known to and vetted by the school (and rated by the ISI as excellent) rather than in-house.
These tend to be current or alumni parents, or other families related to or known to the school over a long period. All pupils are put forward for professional work, including in the theatre and television, via the Sylvia Young Agency, which can help towards costs.
The school has a significant commitment to SEND provision which prior to Year 10 is provided outside main classes. From Year 10 SEND is inclusive within the classroom with extra staff as required. In 2014/15, of the 32 pupils identified with SEND needs (including in English and mathematics), 29 received specialist help. Pupils identified with SEND or EAL “achieve at levels equal to their peers.”
Academically the Sylvia Young Theatre School delivers exceptionally well given both that this is not a selective school and is a school driven by passion and exceptional talent elsewhere in singing, dance, and drama. Stand-out performance in 2015 was in the core subjects of English literature and Expressive Arts, and in the optional subjects of Art, Media, and Music where the school achieved a 100% pass rate at A* - C.
The school has a significant slipstream to the top dance and performing arts colleges at 16, including Hurtwood, Arts Educational, and Elstree, as well as universities and industry.
The school is non-denominational and welcomes pupils from all faiths.
Informal notapushymum reviews are uniformly positive: “my daughter attended for 6 very happy years between 2005 and 2011,” “… your daughter will love the school,” “… my daughter had never done ballet when she started at Sylvia Young and it didn’t hold her back at all … she is now a proficient dancer in all aspects and is qualified to teach tap and Modern theatre dance,” “… they take all types of dancers and like potential in children,” “…it is a wonderful school.”
The Sylvia Young Theatre School was rated Good in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2014).
A’ Level grades secured at A*/A/B: n/a
A’ Level grades A*/A: n/a
A’ Level grades A*: n/a
AS Level Grades A*: n/a
AS Level Grades A*B : n/a
GCSE Grades A*A : 33% (Year 11),34% (Year 10)
GCSE Grades A*C, 83% (Year 11), 91% (Year 10)
The Sylvia Young Theatre School offers talented children in the performing arts literally life changing opportunities.
The success of those who have attended Sylvia Young is all the more remarkable given the extraordinary difficulty of breaking into performing arts as a career for even the most talented. The school’s location in the capital and links with arguably the best theatres in the world help, but the school itself is genuinely special in both balancing and bringing out the best of children’s academic and vocational gifts.
Although gaining a place is difficult and competition is intense, the upside is a very small school built on intimacy, a family atmosphere, and small class sizes. The aim, and the reality, is that every potential is explored and nurtured.
The boarding experience is also unique with pupils placed with local families, usually with their own children at the school. If there is a drawback, it is that the school does not currently have a Sixth Form, although this may change in the medium term. Otherwise, for the talented child, particularly in drama or singing, the Sylvia Young Theatre School is outstanding.
• Stellar reputation
• Industry placement
• Lack of Sixth Form
• Competition for places
• Combination of academic and vocational education
• Fabulous home-boarding
• Intimate, individual education
• Those less than talented in the performing arts
• A traditional English hothouse boarding school
• A sports focused education
• Number of children: 250
• Age Range: 10-16/11-16 Boarding
• Boarding number: 30
• Day number: 220
• Sixth Form: 0
• Number of teaching staff: 48
• Average class size: 1 – 20 (“LAMDA equivalent to individual tuition”)
• Curriculum: GCSE, LAMDA, SY in-house
• Fees: £13,200-£13,500 (Day), £25,000-£30,000 (Boarding estimate by private negotiation) per annum
• Address: 1 Nutford Place, London, W1H 5YZ
• Tel and Web Address: 0044 (0)207 258 2330, www.syts.co.uk
• Admissions: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0044 (0) 1252 792561
• Principal: Sylvia Young OBE (Head Frances Chave BSc, PGCE, NPQH)
• Gender: Co-educational (90 boys, 160 girls)
• ISI Rating Boarding (2014): Excellent
• ISI Rating Academics/Vocational (2014): Exceptional
• ISI Rating Personal Development (2014): Excellent
• ISI Rating Leadership (2014): Good
• Year Founded: 1972 (1981 full-time)
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