Tring Park School for the Performing Arts is one of the UK’s top performing arts schools, with a rollicking alumni list (Lily James, Thandie Newton, Daisy Ridley, Jessica Findlay Brown, Ella Henderson and Matthew Bourne’s ‘swan stranger’ Max Westwell) that reflects the school’s specialisms in dance, drama, musical theatre and commercial music.
You’ll find the school on the Bucks/Oxon border in a lovely 16 acre site close to Tring High Street, centred around a grand Rothschild building – think oak-turned staircases, ceiling freizes, rolling lawns, and more servant bells in the basement than Downton would know how to deal with.
The school is currently full, housing 371 boys and girls from 8-19 years, and offers both boarding and day school options (though boarders make up two thirds of the numbers).
Average class sizes here are small, between 15-20, reflecting Tring Park’s unusually strong focus on academic results alongside its elite performance arm.
The dance studio in the entrance hall
Heavily tailored towards performance of course. It’s surely no accident that the first thing visitors see as they pull up the long gravel driveway is an eye view of a ballet class. And as you walk through the portico and into the entrance hall, there the dancers are again – floor to ceiling window showing them at work. It’s a pretty spectacular introduction to Tring for would-be pupils and their parents.
There are 3 further large rehearsal spaces in the mansion building plus a music suite and small rehearsal rooms, and there’s a stunning 2010 wing of 5 rehearsal spaces in the Tring Park Studios (below) that still feels modern and new.
There’s also a theatre space – smaller than you might expect, but the 2019 replacement didn’t happen for obvious reasons. I suspect the school will focus on just running for the next year, so I’ll let you know when I hear the build has the green light.
Big news on the eating front is a fantastic new £200,000 dining area/cafe on site – so new there were still work tools there! Looks pretty swanky and the kids are very excited.
Plenty of lawn for playing around – the sixth form boys are trying to set up a friendly football match with the Brit school! – but understandably thee are not masses of sports facilities here – students are exercising at least half the day anyway on dance or body conditioning (even those not on the dance course), and they have to be careful not to sustain injuries. There are regular swimming lessons off site for younger pupils though.
The USP for Tring is its commitment to academic rigour along with the professional performance training. There’s a realisation that not everyone will ‘make it’, and if they do, careers can be short; and in the light of Covid when the arts took an 18 month tumble down a rabbit hole, Tring Park’s ethos of equipping performers for a Plan B suddenly feels very smart.
The good news here is that results are undeniably impressive. For GSCE 2021, 42.5% of pupils achieved A*-A and 77% achieved A, while at A Level: 43.5% of pupils achieved A*-A and 73.2% achieved A*-B. This year two Tring Park dancers have gone off to study at Cambridge University, so something’s going very right.
How does this manifest itself? Well, whereas the majority of performing arts schools might offer anywhere from 4-10 subjects at A level, Tring Park offers 22 – Film Studies, Photography are obviously crowd pleasers but according to the kids, Science is also really strong too.
Tring Park School of the Performing Arts: Facebook
Let’s be blunt here – the mark of success at Tring is not ‘taking part’. All the pupils want to stand out, otherwise why be here at all? It’s perfectly normal for various children to be away for months in West End musicals or pulled last minute into TV ads and dance shows. Case in point: three of the kids are currently in Frozen The Musical. Another is in Matilda, yet another is in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But somehow the school avoids what could be a toxic competitive atmosphere by focusing on personal growth and improvement.
Popping into various classrooms to see the children at work, they all want to read aloud, answer questions; everyone smiles and interacts and shows great manners and is out to the make the most of their opportunities..
Music-wise, you can be comfortable that the school performs – the current Principal has a distinguished background in classical music, and the school’s chamber choir has won the BBC Young Choir of the Year twice in the past five years.
It’s totally brilliant (and a bit of a relief) to see that health is taken very seriously – if a child’s weight drops below 18% BMI (and they are weighed regularly), they’re immediately pulled from physical lessons. And if a child drops as little as one kilogram in any one term, he or she is placed on an observation list, so it’s fair to say the school is ON IT for healthy bodies – essential in a performance environment.
The upshot is that the kids eat sensibly here. Anecdotally from parents I know of children, the pastoral care is well-regarded, with the children well supported by the teachers and each other – one of the benefits of the small cohort. The interactions between teachers and pupils that I saw were playful, friendly but respectful – the fitness trainer, for example, was previously a member of Matthew Bourne’s dance company, so what’s not to admire?
There are three boarding houses – one new, one renovated (both for girls), and the third all boys block, Clock House (the former stable block for the Rothchilds built in 1709) is next up for an interiors tickle. All the boarding houses are perfectly presentable with the younger children in bigger dorms, moving to single or doubles for Year 12-13 teens.
One boarding house kitchen, four chirpy kids
Children can board here from 8 years old, and so a strong relationship is forged between the littlies and the older kids – boarding houses span all year groups, and the younger children are taken under the wing of those in years above.
Stefan Anderson is the Principal, and has some serious credentials – Royal Conservatory of Music, Royal College of Music, Emmanuel College Cambridge, and Director of King’s School Canterbury. Proudly Canadian, genteel and no doubt steely at the core (no head teacher changes the status quo without it) he’s been at the helm for 12 years and during that time has turbo-charged this rural idyll in a way that would no doubt thrill the female founders of 1919.
There’s been a lot of investment on Anderson’s watch – the 5 Tring Park Studios in 2010, this Summer’s £200,000 dining hall revamp, and there’s still the promise of a bigger theatre space once post-Covid finances get back on an even keel.
Entry to Tring Park is by audition plus an academic test for the under 16s, so parental bias needs to be parked at the door- it won’t count for anything! Sports Day at Tring Park sounds like a gas and, er, slightly not about sport – there’s a lot of effort that goes into the opening ceremony (last year it was Greased Lightning) and the most popular races are things like ‘how many doughnuts can you eat in a minute’ and some kind of shuttle race involving costume changes. What else? Well, the costume department at Tring Park is vast and rambling and it appears the kids like just popping in to be amongst the sequins and ruffs.
The costume department – one row out of several!
WRAP AROUND CARE
With an 8am start and kids normally collected at 4.30pm (juniors) and 6.30pm (seniors) they are long, busy, physical days. Pupils can stay for supervised prep with prior notice, and often they will have to stay later anyway for rehearsals and shows.
The most recent dance report is by Ofsted back in 2015, but there are more recent ISI reports (2017-9) on Compliance, Educational Quality, and also an interesting one on Growth Mindset (2018). See all reports here.
Hovering a little higher than an average public school I’d say, costing £5,130 – £8,710 per term for day pupils, or for boarders £8,730 – £12,350 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
I know several kids who board here and they love it. I mean, really love it. Admittedly they are very serious about working in film and dance industries (and in fact are already working) and I suppose for children so driven by performance, they will fit in better around like-minded kids who want to sing and dance all day with them. I haven’t heard any dissent from the parents – not surprising when you can see how successful it’s been at producing famous alumni. The recent Oxbridge wins has bolstered confidence in both kid and parents. Popular teachers abound but Simon Sharp and Miss Immy were both mentioned particularly – you know who you are!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Children who have the drive and passion to be a professional singer, dancer or actor and basically want to spend hours and hours every day working towards that goal.
Not for: Enthusiastic amateurs. The half a day of vocational training means that hockey, netball and more general school activities are not possible, so while it provides brilliant opportunities there are drawbacks if you’re looking for an all round education. Anyone wanting an even pace and quiet life, don’t bother applying. Even the Principal agrees that they try to pack too much into a day – but that’s kind of what you’re paying for here.
Dare to disagree?! There are two Open Mornings in October (8 and 15) with two sessions on each day. The morning session will take place from 10am – 12pm, the afternoon session will take place from 3:30pm – 5:30pm. Bookings are now open. Be warned, when the open mornings are full the booking closes, so don’t leave it too long!
Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, Tring, Hertfordshire, HP23 5LX. tringpark.com