The Royal Ballet School nurtures exceptional young dancers while delivering an academic education of the highest quality. Students go on to join world-renowned classical ballet companies as performers and choreographers, and many enjoy long and successful careers, fulfilling other roles both within and beyond the dance industry. 

While many students hope to one day dance with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and other major international companies, on occasion, a student may choose not to, or may be unable to, pursue this dream. The School’s commitment to continually improve its training means providing the skills and experience its students need to thrive whichever life path they choose.

With this in mind, The Royal Ballet School has revisited the structure of its eight-year training programme with a view to establishing clear pathways to progression for its young students and their parents and guardians. Here, you’ll find an outline of the new structure with details of its four age-specific programmes.

An Overview of Changes

As of autumn 2022, The Royal Ballet School will move away from annual assessments and instead offer four distinct programmes, each delivered to a set age group and with clearly defined outcomes. Each programme aligns with academic Key Stages to guarantee a well-rounded curricular education. 

The new structure also ensures that those who progress are ready and able to meet the increased demands of the next phase of training and those who choose not to continue with the School receive the support they need to take their next steps. The key changes to the new eight-year programme structure are as follows:

  1. No More Annual Assessments

Rather than compulsory annual assessments, the new structure requires that students apply to each programme as they progress through the School. This transforms the journey through the School into a more active, “opt-in” process, with students choosing whether to take part in the application’s required audition. If a student decides not to continue with training at the School, or if they are unsuccessful in their application, they will receive guidance to help them pursue alternative educational avenues and goals.

  1. Time to Consider the Next Step

Introducing the new programme structure not only allows the School to tailor the training and academic education delivered to specific age groups but also ensures the students regularly consider their next moves with the support of their teachers and advisers. As students must apply for further programme stages, this will give them and their parents or guardians a chance to consider if this is the route they want to take and what it could mean for them and their future.

  1. Designated Artistic Programme Managers

Designated artistic programme managers will strengthen the dance training offered to each specific age group, allowing for a broader programme taught in Years 7 to 9 and moving to more specialised dance training in Years 10 to 11. In addition, when students apply for each programme, designated artistic programme managers will view students with “fresh eyes” to ensure objective recognition of the applicants’ talent and hard work.

The Four Programmes

Four programmes now make up the full-time, eight-year training course:

  • Foundation Programme for National Curriculum Years 7 to 9.
  • Development Programme for National Curriculum Years 10 to 11.
  • Vocational Programme for National Curriculum Years 12 to 13.
  • Pre-Professional Programme for students aged 18 to 19.

The School believes that defined training and academic programmes with specific points of entry and progression will give greater certainty and clarity to both students and parents or guardians. Here are the details of the four new programmes:

  1. Foundation Programme

Entry to this initial programme at White Lodge, the School’s site for younger students, is by open audition. Alongside a dance timetable including classical ballet, contemporary dance, and folk dance, students aged 11 to 14 will enjoy a broad academic foundation based on the Key Stage 3 National Curriculum. Most Foundation Programme candidates are likely to be members of The Royal Ballet School Associate Programme, which offers regional training to young dancers before they are old enough to apply for full-time training. Students from other UK dance schools and international students may also apply.

  1. Development Programme

Students aged 14 to 16 accepted into the Development Programme have the potential to progress to Upper School or other top vocational schools. Students can enter via open audition or from the Foundation Programme, Intensive Courses, or selected competitions. The School also accepts a small number of exceptional international students each year. Alongside their dance training, Development Programme students pursue academic study at GCSE or IGCSE Level (National Curriculum Key Stage 4).

  1. Vocational Programme

The Vocational Programme accepts students aged 16 to 18 who demonstrate the most potential to progress into a career in classical ballet at the highest level. Alongside a rigorous dance programme, students work towards a BA degree in Classical Ballet and Dance Performance, as well as additional post-GCSE courses.

  1. Pre-Professional Programme

Students aged 18 to 19 gain places on the final year Pre-Professional Programme at the invitation of The Royal Ballet School’s Artistic Director, with support from the Artistic Directors of The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. Work experience opportunities with both dance companies are a key component of the programme, which focuses on professional repertoire and the final stages of training in preparation for a professional career. Students from the Vocational Programme also have the opportunity to “top up” their Foundation Degree to a full BA (Hons) degree.

Raising Standards in Specialised Dance Training

The Royal Ballet School’s Artistic Director Christopher Powney has spearheaded the programme re-structure, building upon past successes to create this considered, forward-looking approach. Powney believes the revised structure is a positive one that places students’ best interests at its heart. Embracing new educational methods and advancements in elite training and well-being, the School continues to work towards raising its standards in specialised dance training for young people.

“The excellent dance and academic education provided at The Royal Ballet School provides a perfect springboard for our exceptional young people at all stages of their education,” Powney says. “The revised structure sets an even clearer pathway for young people who apply for a full-time place at the School and ensures that our training programme provides an outstanding, all-round education, regardless of progression.”

About The Royal Ballet School

The Royal Ballet School is a globally celebrated centre for classical ballet training. Founded by Dame Ninette de Valois nearly 100 years ago, the School has contributed greatly to the culture of The Royal Ballet and its associated companies, producing generations of dancers and choreographers of international renown. Some of history’s greatest ballet stars are former students of the School, including Margot Fonteyn, Anya Linden, Kenneth Macmillan, Anthony Dowell, and Darcey Bussell. Recent ballet greats and Royal Ballet School graduates include Vadim Muntagirov, Edward Watson, and Christopher Wheeldon.

The School admits students based entirely on dance potential and artistic merit, regardless of academic ability or personal circumstances. 84% of current students rely on financial support to attend. The School offers a carefully-structured eight-year dance course, complemented by extensive academic, pastoral, and pioneering healthcare programmes, ensuring students feel fully equipped to flourish at whatever stage they leave the School.

Among its many goals, and outside of the full-time training available at its London sites, The Royal Ballet School continues to broaden access to classical ballet by sharing expertise and engaging with the wider community through its various outreach programmes.

Learn more about The Royal Ballet School.