THE government is to launch a new support scheme for dance and drama students to resolve a recruitment crisis.
A funding package expected to provide students at independent dance and drama schools with a mandatory award for the first time is to be unveiled in November by the Department for Education and Employment and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Ministers are considering introducing grants and loans from next year to cover course fees for 16 to 18-year-olds, who have been relying on the increasingly fickle discretionary grants system.
It will replace the Pounds 25 million interim scheme administered by the Arts Council since last autumn, which has been heavily criticised by both private and state dance and drama schools.
The interim scheme slashed local authority contributions to dance and drama course costs from about Pounds 7,000 to Pounds 1,250 a year. But pressure groups argued that the threshold was still too high, after a survey found that nearly 40 per cent of local authorities were not providing discretionary grants for dance and drama students.
As it emerged this week that only 65 per cent of private school places had been filled, the Arts Council said too much had been expected of the interim scheme. Senior education officer Edward Birch said the new arrangements were bound to be seen as a step in the right direction.
"The interim scheme was never really designed to replace the inequality of the discretionary awards system. It was just there to help local authorities cover the costs," he said.
But government rules affecting the status of 40 dance and drama schools taking part in the new scheme are causing concern among institutions, the National Campaign for the Arts warned this week.
Participating schools will have to join either the further education or higher education sector, and they will become subject to the requirements of either the further or the higher education funding councils.
Jennifer Edwards, National Campaign for the Arts director, said: "Schools are not so much worried about the quality of their courses as the extra red tape and administrative requirements they will run into once they come under the funding councils. Some may even be forced to close."
Most schools are expected to move into the higher education sector. But there are fears that this will mean many courses will replace technical and vocational course elements with academic ones.
Such a move would be contrary to the requirements of the dance and drama industry, an Arts Council survey has found. Although there is a growing demand for people with flexible skills, the industry continues to need a steady stream of specialists, a report on the findings to be published later this month will say.
The survey came up with no conclusions on the question of whether there is an oversupply of dance and drama graduates.
"It is impossible to say because the market is too flexible and constantly changing to put a figure on it," Mr Birch said.