Accredited vs Non-Accredited: What's the difference?

There are plenty of drama schools and theatre training courses to choose from, some accredited and some non-accredited, but it can be hard to know which one is right for you, which course to apply for, or what it means when a school is accredited. This blog will delve into what accreditation actually means and look at the pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision about what is best for you.

Who accredits an institution?

There are four principal awarding bodies that offer accreditation and quality assurance of an organisation as a whole:

  • CDMT (the Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre)
  • Ofsted, which awards diplomas
  • TEF (The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework)
  • QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), which awards BAs and MAs

Who validates a course?

These awarding bodies offer validation for a specific course within an organisation:

  • Trinity College (validates diplomas)
  • Ofqual (validates government requirements)
  • A connected university (validates degrees)

Some schools are part of membership organisations, alliances or groups:
These schools are not accredited or validated by the member organisation, but they have grouped together to agree on certain values and to share best teaching methods. These include:

  • The Federation of Drama Schools
  • Conservatoire UK
  • Diversity Schools Initiative
  • AMTC (Alliance of Musical Theatre Conservatoires)

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What does accreditation mean?

Accreditation sets the standard for high quality training of an institution as a whole. It looks at the general standard of training across the whole organisation rather than specific courses.


The Council for Dance, Drama & Musical Theatre – known as CDMT, or previously CDET – is the main awarding body for accreditation for performing arts training organisations. Before CDMT, there was an organisation called Drama UK but CDMT replaced Drama UK’s place when it dissolved in 2017. CDMT took the existing Drama UK schools and also added dance and musical theatre organisations to become CDMT as it exists today. CDMT is a private institution that awards accreditation to those who apply and meet its standards.

CDMT look into various areas to decide whether or not the school that has applied holds the highest standards of professional training. The inspection process consists of a self-evaluation submission by the applicant and a two-day visit to the organisation by three industry consultants.

When you see a school is accredited by CDMT, you know that the organisation will have undertaken full inspection and programme scrutiny by CDMT, to confirm that they meet the highest industry and institutional standards for performing arts training.


QAA claims to ‘safeguard standards and improve the quality of UK higher education wherever it is delivered around the world. They check that students get the higher education they are entitled to expect.’

The process for accreditation by QAA is in the form of a self-assessment from the institution, as well as meetings and an inspection from a review manager. Institutions have to apply annually to keep the accreditation award from QAA.


Ofsted is well known as the government body that inspects the standards of schools. You may have seen them at your primary or secondary school. They are also known to inspect the quality of some drama schools, they will give them a score out of Inadequate, Requires Improvement, Good or Outstanding.


Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), assesses colleges and universities on their teaching and how well they ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate level employment or further study. They will award an institution with either Provisional, Bronze, Silver or Gold awards.

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What does validation mean?

Validation is different to accreditation and looks into individual courses within an institution. It ensures that a course itself is of a high quality.


Trinity College London is the awarding body which validates Level 6 Diplomas in acting, dance, and musical theatre.

It will look at courses from an institution individually and award each course separately from the next; therefore in one institution one course may be validated by Trinity and another may not have passed the benchmark. It recognises those courses that are the same level as a degree but for a vocational qualification. Trinity College London also provides awards for graded exams (for example; Grade 8 singing exams). Institutions pay a fee for an external examiner to attend a one-off exam for the student/s to be levelled at a certain grade. You may therefore find that an institution includes a logo from Trinity College London even though it does not offer the Level 6 Diploma course.


Ofqual is the government body for regulating qualifications. It publishes guidance that organisations have to follow if they award qualifications to those under 18 that have to abide by the Education and Skills Act 2008.



University partners are another way for a course to be validated. The university will carry out its own assessment to ensure that a course is qualified for the level of degree the institution is offering. There are also some institutions that have been given TDAP (Taught Degree Awarding Powers) so that they can in effect become their own university.

What are the memberships/alliances/groups some schools are part of?

These are organisations who have agreed to come together and share best practice and values.


The Federation of Drama Schools was founded in 2017. It is a group of drama schools that have come together to adhere to certain guidelines and core principles. To be a part of this group institutions must:

  • Prove at least four years of graduating students
  • Provide at least one three-year programme
  • Prove at least 50% of professional paid employment contracts of graduating students or placement with an agent within one year of graduation
  • Students that have auditioned to gain entrance, show a primary focus on rehearsal, performance and production elements
  • Prove high levels of staff/student contact time
  • Have strong links with industry professionals


Conservatoires UK consists of a range of institutions that deliver a high number of contact hours between staff and students, focus on individual development, and have courses that teach a combination of intellectual and social skills. They encourage students to create and develop their own work for succeeding in the professional world.


Alliance of Musical Theatre Conservatoires (AMTC) is a newly formed group, launched in November 2018. It consists of five drama schools (Arts Educational Schools London, Mountview, Guildford School of Acting, Urdang Academy and Bird College), which say they have clubbed together to share best practice and work together to increase diversity and participation                                                                                              in musical theatre.


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Pros of accreditation

  • The organisation has been assessed by an outside body on the standard of teaching to ensure that you are guaranteed the highest quality of training and facilities.
  • You can graduate with a degree (e.g. BA/MA) or diploma certificate.
  • Spotlight UK only accepts accredited drama schools or university courses for membership, otherwise you will need at least four professional credits within the field to gain membership. According to Spotlight UK: “The courses that are eligible for Spotlight Graduate membership are those which have met certain criteria such as the number of contact hours per week, the balance of practical versus theoretical training, whether it offers a showcase or regular performance opportunities and other, industry-relevant requirements.”

Pros of non-accreditation

  • A new institution may not yet have been awarded accreditation because they are still developing and gaining the necessary elements to be able to apply. The standard of teaching could still be high and contact hours just the same as an accredited institution.
  • Sometimes these courses can be less expensive due to not having to pay for the degree title from an outside university.

The importance behind your decision on which drama school to choose lies in what is the best place for you. Not only the institution that you will best fit into, but also the right course that will allow you to thrive and succeed within the path you have chosen. Take a look at other areas of the Get Into Theatre site to help guide your research further.


QAA Handbook: Higher Education Review (Alternative Providers)

Photo: Graeae

Published: 04 March 2019

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