If your child is a budding thespian, wears ballet shoes more than trainers or sings constantly, then you might have considered a performing arts school for their KS2 education. Well, good news to those based in Herts or the surrounding areas – the illustrious Tring Park Prep is widening their cohort to include Year 3 entry this September.
You’ll know Tring Park School for the Performing Arts from its outstanding senior school (read our Muddy review here), but you might not know that there’s a fantastic Prep School too – currently there are 21 pupils split across all year groups. Come September though, this number will increase as Tring Park Prep takes on its first Year 3 pupils to cover the whole of KS2.
It’s a great option for children with an interest in dance, music or theatre, as two-thirds of the curriculum is made up of traditional academic subjects, sports and holistic activities such as mindfulness, with the other third made up of vocational lessons in ballet, modern and tap dance as well as acting, music and choir.
Muddy caught up with Elizabeth Odell, Director of Studies, and Amanda Deer, Head of Prep (and the one who currently teaches every single pupil – yes, you read that right, what a saint) to find out more about the changes at Tring Park Prep and what kind of children would suit a life at this prestigious performing arts school.
Muddy: So, what’s behind the changes at Tring Park Prep?
Elizabeth: We used to only offer intake from Year 4, which is part way through Key Stage 2, and we wanted to be able to cover the whole of that age group – it just seemed more logical! It also means a much smoother transition from infant school through to Prep, which means children settle quicker.
Muddy: What kind of children do you look for at a performing arts school? Is it only for kids who have been in formal dance or vocal training since they could walk and talk?
Amanda: Firstly, there’s no audition to join Prep! At this stage we’re just looking for children who have an interest in the performing arts. They don’t have to be all-singing, all-dancing, full-on talented – it’s more about the passion when they’re this young. Some children come with no dance or acting experience at all, they might just love going to the theatre or playing musical instruments. We want enthusiasm, and we’ll help them develop the skills alongside that.
Elizabeth: We really want to foster and nurture a love of the performing arts, and by the time they’re ready to audition for the Senior school, it might be just that, a passion or a hobby – or it might be something they want to focus on and continue with.
Muddy: So they don’t need to be in a million different after-school clubs?
Amanda: Some of our children do attend clubs or classes during the weekend, but one thing that does appeal to parents is that they don’t have to attend loads of after-school activities, as they’re all covered in the school day. That means that when they go home after school, that family time is precious and they can spend it together.
Muddy: Is there such a thing as a shy Tring Park Prep pupil?
Amanda: Erm… *laughs*
Elizabeth: We do encourage confidence, we do! Confidence is such an important skill no matter what you do, so we love that our pupils can stand up and speak to people, with a smile, and know how to present themselves.
Amanda: We have had shy or slightly withdrawn children come to us who might have a passion for dance, for example, and the parents have been astounded at how confident and at ease they’ve become given the chance to thrive in the right environment. For a lot of children, the chance to be in a school where everyone has these interests is really eye-opening, and the parents love it.
Muddy: You have a majority of girls to boys – are you hoping for more boys once the Prep expands?
Elizabeth: We’re really keen to take on more boys. I think that parents might hesitate at the thought of giving up sport, but it’s only for the Senior school that sport takes a back seat – we do offer it here at the Prep! Swimming is in the timetable as well as the hour and a half a week of outdoor sports that they’re taught on top of dance.
It’s also a great age for boys who have an interest in performing arts but might perhaps feel stifled in a more traditional environment – it’s a good way to try it and see if it’s something they want to take forward.
Amanda: Definitely, and the younger boys look up to the Senior school boys as something to aspire to. The Senior school is about one-third boys, and they might be playing football at lunchtime, but they’re also brilliant dancers, singers, actors and musicians – the little ones see that and think, ‘wow, I could do that.’
Muddy: Do the girls completely take over or do the boys hold their own?
Amanda: No, if anything it promotes equality! At this stage they don’t see each other as split into boys and girls, because they’re not – they’re all taught together.
Elizabeth: And we give every child his or her chance to shine when it comes to performing. If needs be we’ll adapt scripts so that the genders are best represented in drama, for example.
Muddy: The pressure of homework combined with an active dance, drama and music schedule seems a lot to take on – I’m exhausted just thinking about it! How do you make sure the kids stay kids, especially at this young age?
Elizabeth: They do have a longer school day than most primary schools (8.30am to 4.20pm), but we make sure to carve out time for them to just be children. There’s time for them to play, and colour, and chat to friends – everything you would expect of a typical primary school.
Amanda: They’re currently all outside making buttercup and daisy chains!
Muddy: Not every child goes to school in a Rothschild mansion! How do you provide up to date facilities in such a historical setting?
Elizabeth: There’s a real mix of areas in the school. The academic lessons are in New Block, which is a modern addition to the main school – it’s bright and spacious, there’s bifold doors out to the Astroturf – and then they can go and take a dance lesson in a historical mansion, or in a professional ballet studio in Tring Park Studios.
Muddy: And who’s teaching those lessons? It’s not all Amanda in tights, is it?
Elizabeth: Well this is the great thing – they have their main classroom teachers in Amanda and our new Prep teacher starting in September, but the vocational lessons are taught by specialists. They’re taught drama by professional actors, and dance by dancers who have been in the Royal Ballet. One of our music teachers used to play with Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys and Moby!
Muddy: You’ve got some impressive alumni at Tring Park (Lily James, Thandie Newton, Daisy Ridley etc)! Do all the children want to be on stage or in films at this age?
Elizabeth: I think at this age they all have aspirations to perform professionally in some shape or form – and some of them are lucky enough to be doing it already. But we’re very keen to instill in them that this is a long journey, not a short one, and if it’s something they want to do then they’ll need a broad range of skills to take them through the long haul.
Amanda: We do keep the realism! And some of the children love the arts, but they’re here to pursue academic passions as well.
Elizabeth: And we’re equally proud of those children, who go on to have careers outside the performing arts. We’re proud of all of them.
Is your interest piqued? Tring Park Prep‘s next Open Day is Friday 20 May – or you can take your child to one of their Evaluation Mornings, where they get to spend time with the current Prep cohort and try out some of the vocational classes. The next Tring Park Prep Evaluation Day is Mon 20 Jun. Email Registrar firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.
Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, Tring, Hertfordshire, HP23 5LX. tringpark.com
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