Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Minotaur Returns...

Back in 1979 I was a fresh-faced (well a bit spotty) 18 year old making the long car journey in my Mini from Cumbria to Norwich to begin my Drama degree course at UEA. I’d really fouled up my A levels so was very grateful to UEA for ‘seeing the potential’ behind the poor grades (wouldn’t happen today – warning note to all our students – study hard!)

We were to be the first intake ever at UEA on the Drama degree course so the whole thing was new to everyone and we’d been invited to arrive a couple of days early for a project.

On arrival we met our tutors, and were introduced to a brand new, purpose built studio space which was to be our home for the next three years. We were given the theme ‘The Minotaur’ and no other guidance and asked to produce something over the next two days.

Well, we did – it was a fantastic way to get to know everyone and we bonded very quickly and very closely as a group. The project also made sure we tested out the new facilities and got rid of any nerves. I honestly can’t remember exactly what we did with the theme, but we reckoned it was pretty good. But the experience was invaluable and we suggested to the faculty that from then on, every Drama intake should do the same project.

We formed our own theatre group, Minotaur Student Theatre Company, to put on self-funded shows as a result which worked very well – averaging a couple of productions a term and always making money.

And I heard yesterday that one of Best’s long-standing students, Michael Bird, was going up to UEA to begin his Drama degree course – and that he’d been asked to go up early to take part in a project – called ‘Minotaur’.

I was at once proud, thrilled for Michael and overcome with a wave of nostalgia – and fair amount of jealousy! It’s great to see our ex-students really take flight and Michael has so much to look forward to.

So on the subject of ex-students, we have a 15 year anniversary coming up soon and soon there will be news of a Best alumni project to track our ex-students down. No-one is safe...

Monday, 17 September 2012

It’s not about the money (money, money)! Fees in lieu...

The single issue that causes us more stress than anything else at Best is that of fees in lieu of notice. Read on for tales of mysterious line faults, courtroom drama and general stress...

Our notice requirements are clear and simple -  we ask people to give us half a term’s notice, given at half term, of a child’s intention to leave at the end of that term, or half a term’s fees are payable in lieu of notice. We make no secret of this – the terms appear on all our bills, on the initial registration form and in our terms and conditions of business.

Half a term’s notice is absolutely standard in any school like ours – indeed some classes want a full term. Notice enables us to put in place plans to make sure we fill whatever spaces we have left. If we get notice later than that it’s simply too late for us to do anything about it – with schools on holiday we can’t get our message out to the public. Of course we hate losing any of our wonderful students but we much prefer knowing at the earliest possible time that they are going and definitely at or before half term.

Now the vast majority of our parents have fully understood these requirements and have no problem in complying. Of those that are, for whatever reason, unable to give us the required notice most are fully understanding of the requirement for fees in lieu and often, because of their honesty and ‘upfrontness’ we are moved to soften the blow a little...

It is the tiny minority of others who either claim ignorance of the terms or deliberately ignore them, that cause us so much stress and upset.

Let us be absolutely clear - this is NOT a money thing. Fees in lieu do nothing for us, it’s a filled place that we want! But our terms have to have some teeth or our school would be impossible to run. How could we go into a new term not knowing how many children were going to turn up? And the chasing and securing of fees in lieu ends up costing us far more in time and stress than the actual £ amount would ever cover.  But it is only fair that we apply these terms with absolute consistency. If we let some parents off because they complain or simply ignore us it is manifestly unfair on the vast majority who have given proper notice or willingly settled fees in lieu.

So we are left in a bit of a no-win situation. We try and talk to people and again may even make an offer for an early settlement. At this stage again most people will realise that it’s a fair system and the issue will be resolved. But for others...some offer settlement cheques which are then bounced, some put the phone down on us, some pretend not to be there (yes, really!) and some just get cross and threaten us with all manner of potential PR horrors .  In one extreme case a few years ago all four of those things happened and in the worst moment of all a poor child was told by her mother (audibly to me over the phone) to tell me ‘Mum’s gone out!’

Where people decide to be silly about all this we are left with no other course than to see the terms through, even if that means going to court. Now, thankfully although we’ve issued proceedings three times (which I guess isn’t bad in 15 years) we’ve only had to go to court once and in that case the judge ruled in our favour in a matter of seconds. We didn’t even get the chance to shout “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The parents concerned had to cover the court costs and only avoided a CCJ by paying a cheque over in front of the judge. But it was a hollow victory for us - we hated every second of the process. It’s not what we are here to do.

So if anyone out there ever has any questions on our notice period – PLEASE DO ASK US!!! Obviously we don’t want tom lose your child, but we definitely don’t want to have to ask for fees in lieu. 

It's not about the money, we just want to make the world dance (act & sing)!