It can be a daunting experience sending your child to a drama or dance class for the first time. There are many questions you might ask yourself. “Can I afford this expensive hobby for my child?” “Will the class develop my child’s confidence?” “How do I know the teacher is qualified to teach?” “Is the teacher CRB checked?” are just a few that might be running through your mind. As we move from one term to another here are three top tips on what to look out for and how to find the right class.

1. Always do your research.

I ca not stress enough on how important this is to you and your child. If this is something your child wants to try for the first time you need to know that you can trust the teacher and their experience and that they know what they are doing. If this is something that your child has decided they want to develop further it is important that you find a class that they are comfortable in and that allows them to grow as an individual in confidence and skills. Children often do grow out of the first class they might attend after a few years, but if you can find a company or class that offers progression in a safe environment, either with another teacher or harder styles/techniques, this will save you having to repeat this process all over again.

We at A Mind Apart understand the importance of progression for individuals and make sure that there are progression opportunities for all of our children and young people throughout the company. Classes are divided by age and ability making sure we offer our children and young people the best training and support available.

Make sure you ring the class and speak to the teacher, if possible, before sending your child. If you are particularly concerned ask to observe a session before your child attends. Most classes should allow you to do this, and if they don’t I would question why they will not permit it. Find out as much about the company or individual teaching the class as possible. This might include visiting their website or speaking to other parents whose children attend the classes. If the class is run by individuals always make sure they have a CRB check and you have seen it. They should usually be held for three years before a new one is expected and should be ‘enhanced’. If the class is run through a company, they are not allowed to employ teachers to work with children without a CRB check. You can ask to see the child protection and safeguarding policy which should state this in it.

2. Don’t assume because the teacher has been acting for years that they can teach.

A common mistake by parents is to send their child to a class where the teachers claim to have years of acting experience, but no teaching experience. I must stress that there are some great actors out there who are just as equally great teachers, but this is not always the case and is rarer to find than you might think. During these hard times, the economy has also hits those within the performing arts sector both in the community and commercially. My recent experience is showing me that many actors are now out of work and are turning their hand to teaching. This is a difficult scenario. Often when I interview such individuals I realise that they have very little experience of working with the target groups A Mind Apart works with and would not be able to cope with challenging young people. However in many cases their experience of being directed by a range of individuals can prove to be invaluable. A Mind Apart has a strict rule that any facilitator or teacher must have a qualification in performing arts and experience of teaching (and in some cases a teaching qualification). Where experience is low we work hard with the individual to train them through the company offering the support they require and finally allowing them to teach alone when we feel they are competent enough. All of our teachers have regular spot checks and feedback to maintain a high standard and are offered a high level of support when needed.

Unfortunately this is not the case with everyone, and many actors are turning their hand to teaching to get through the difficult times we face. The questions you need to ask are “do they intend to continue their acting career? And what will happen if they get a casting call?” We are all aware that children need stability, and that should be no different when you are choosing a class. You need to know that the class will not be cancelled every other week because the teacher can’t make it. Is there cover if the teacher falls ill? And is this something the teacher is truly passionate about or is it just a stop gap until more work comes along for them? It is also good to consider how many adults are in the class with your child. It is good practice for there to be at least two adults in a class, usually one teacher and one assistant. This demonstrates good safeguarding and child protection for your child. Don’t feel worried if you feel you need to see a child protection and safeguarding policy to give you peace of mind. If the class or company does not have one I would seriously think twice about sending your child there.

3. Shop around and find the best price for you.

Spend time shopping around. Most of us are tight for cash and wouldn’t go into the most expensive shop in town and automatically buy the most expensive jumper. We would probably spend some time shopping around. So why do we not shop around for a fair price with something like out of school classes? There are plenty of companies that have a good reputation but charge a ridiculous amount of money for classes per term and don’t even guarantee individual support for your child. In such commercial companies classes often have 20-30 students in them and it is easy for your child to be overlooked. Yes, they offer quality this is undeniable when you see them working nationally. But it’s also worth pointing out that such companies work on a franchise basis, which doesn’t always guarantee individual quality. These companies are interested in money and you need to decide whether you think they will invest in your child like you would expect for the fees they charge. Such quality can be found at lower prices, you just need to look around.

A Mind Apart is based in the community and offers classes in various areas across the city. The aim for this is to maintain small classes where we can focus on each individual child and make sure their confidence and ability is developed and nurtured as equally as the others in the group. The classes are offered at affordable rates which are determined so that we can cover costs of the running of the classes. We want to make performing arts available to everyone and so do not aim to make a large profit on such classes. Those that do make profit fund the classes that don’t meaning that we can deliver in more areas across the city and maintain small sized classes.

Your primary concern is your child and it is important that you find a class that understands that and more importantly puts your child as their primary concern. Follow these three tips and you will be sure to find the perfect class for your child and your purse.