The Music and Dance Scheme (MDS)

The Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) is a remarkable and much admired part of the UK's education and training system. It is the Government's main vehicle for supporting exceptionally talented young musicians and dancers regardless of their background and financial circumstances. Thanks to successive Education Ministers' far-sightedness and support, the Scheme has flourished and extended its reach so that many more young people have been able to access the best training available which, in turn, has set them on the path to self-sustaining and productive careers. Access to Excellence: The UK's Music and Dance Schools (March 2016)

The Department for Education's Music and Dance Scheme (together with its sister scheme administered by the Scottish Government) enables just over 1000 exceptionally talented children to have access to the best specialist music and dance training available, alongside a rigorous academic education.

The Scheme recognises that there is a need to educate and train, from an early age, children who are exceptionally talented in the fields of music and dance if Britain is to maintain a world-class pool of talent for future generations.

The requirement for early training, in particular the primary development of the physical and intellectual disciplines required of dancers and musicians, is recognised by many to be greater than for some other forms of artistic endeavour. The MDS enables exceptionally talented children between the ages of 8 and 19 to receive a sound academic education alongside the best specialist music and dance/ballet training available.

By designating certain schools as centres of excellence, financial and human resources can be concentrated, which ensures that:

  • children benefit from close association with similarly gifted children who provide the stimulus of competition and example
  • by receiving support with the costs of boarding, pupils from all over the country have access to an extended teaching day and to practice facilities within the environment of the school
  • timetabling can take account of the individual requirements of the pupil and the need for orchestras, choirs and performances to be integrated with other parts of the school curriculum
  • distinguished practitioners can be attracted to teach and/or take masterclasses

Before 1973, support for pupils at schools such as those currently in MDS schools was provided by local education authorities. In 1973, the Royal Ballet (Lower) School and The Yehudi Menuhin School were admitted to a fee remission scheme funded by the Department in recognition of their position as Centres of Excellence for the Performing Arts. The fee remission income scale (ie the means-test of parents) mirrored that of the old direct grant grammar school scheme with some modification to account for the higher costs of boarding and specialist tuition.

The Gulbenkian Report (1978) on training musicians reviewed the state of specialist music education. It was largely as a result of the recommendations in the report that the Music and Ballet Schools Scheme (MBS) was set up.

In 1981 five specialist music schools in the UK were designated as MBS schools: Chetham's School of Music, Wells Cathedral School, The Purcell School, The Yehudi Menuhin School and St Mary's Music School, Edinburgh (under a scheme administered by the Scottish Department for Education), as well as The Royal Ballet School. The Scheme was expanded in 1996 by the admission of two new schools - Elmhurst School for Dance and Performing Arts and the Arts Educational School, Tring - and with additional places at existing schools. In 2002, the scheme was renamed the Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) and another dance school, the Hammond School, Chester, was admitted.

All nine specialist schools are independent and are registered with both the Independent Schools Council and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Each school is allocated a fixed number of government-aided places: bursaries which are calculated on a means-tested basis.

For details of how bursaries are calculated and who is eligible for them, see Fees and Bursaries.