Graded examinations in the performing arts were originally conceived as a vehicle for the cultural development of young people, with some organisations having offered qualifications since the late nineteenth century. They share a common structure, are recognised within the current UK Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), and are available in the individual disciplines of music, dance, and drama.

Graded examinations are viewed in many ways by both the candidates who enter for them and by the sector more widely. Whilst most entries are at the lower grades, up to Grade 3, nevertheless many learners do progress through all eight levels, and entry numbers are high, especially when compared with GCSEs and A Levels. Motivation for candidates to enter comes primarily from three drivers: the desire to develop technical competence; the pursuit of any given discipline as a leisure or hobby activity, and personal and social development more generally.

When looking at progression, data captured from students training professionally in dance, musical theatre and drama at CDMT Accredited schools indicates that the graded examinations sector, in particular qualifications in dance, has significantly better take up than the in-school GCSE, AS and A Level provision. You can read CDMT’s full report into the performing arts qualifications held by students entering vocational training here.

More widely, Higher Education institutions often regard graded examinations as a useful addition to a student’s portfolio of qualifications, providing benchmarks from which to judge the level of achievement in a particular set of performance skills and techniques.

Further, most awarding organisations offer teaching qualifications at the higher levels. As with performance qualifications, these are developed according to organisational needs:

  • Dance awarding organisations use teaching qualifications in conjunction with their membership structures. Achievement of a teaching qualification means that the individual has shown a level of competence, knowledge and understanding which allows them to become a member of the organisation and enter students for graded and vocational graded examinations.
  • Music and drama awarding organisations are not usually membership organisations, but all offer teaching qualifications which confer on a successful candidate recognition of a level of competence to practice as a private teacher, without strictly speaking conferring a ‘licence to teach’.

These qualifications are primarily used by those teaching in the private sector or for peripatetic teachers working in schools and colleges, though some have been developed to facilitate links with teaching programmes in the state sector. Awarding organisations have worked with bodies such as Ofqual and CDMT over the years to ensure that regulated private teaching qualifications have a clear relationship with teaching qualifications for the state sector.

Awarding organisations also view graded examinations as playing an important role in giving potential employers an insight into a potential staff member’s interests, hobbies and experiences beyond the role to which they are applying. Anecdotal evidence suggests that employers working not only in the creative industries, but in other fields more widely, are likely to have an understanding and appreciation of graded examinations, and might therefore look favourably on candidates that have undertaken such assessments.