The P Factor
On January 8th 2000, I opened my first Perform class. Me, a teacher and four children.
It went pretty well - all things considered. But, afterwards, when I was talking to the parents about my plans to eventually open Perform all over London, one of the mums said that my greatest challenge would be finding great people to run the classes. People who would do an amazing job every week whether you are there or not.
11 years,180 teachers and 4,000 children a week later, I agree!
The biggest challenge and the most time-consuming element of my job is recruiting. And that's simply because it's not just important - it's the most important thing. Having fantastic teachers is the only way we can guarantee the standards of our classes.
Perform teachers have to be ?triple threats?. For anyone that's not familiar with the musical theatre term, that means able to act, sing and dance. They must be brilliant with children, totally professional, have staggering energy...and like getting up at 6am on Saturday mornings.
So how do we ensure that every one of our 173 classes has a teaching team that lives up to this?
11 years ago, we'd interview prospective candidates in an office-type situation. Chat to them, discuss their CV and experience etc. Some of them were brilliantly qualified drama teachers but put them in front of a group of 4-8 year olds and they'd panic, revert to baby mode and the children would be so bored that I'd have to step in and take over the class. That was in the early days!
After a year, we started to do proper auditions. Seeing auditionees on their feet leading a drama game was revolutionary and showed us if they had the right Perform qualities. Now, on the first first Monday of every month, we invite 60 prospective candidates to an audition-type workshop where they are asked to play a drama game. Those who get through that and have Perform potential, we ask to stay and learn a dance routine. If they get through that round, they get to stay and sing a song. How many are left by the end? On a good day, about 5. Simon Cowell eat your heart out.
Because it's not just about being able to act, sing and dance. Perform teachers have to have the P Factor. They have to be able to inspire, excite and engage a group of 20 children who have just had a long day at school. They have to be the kind of people who the children want to be and the parents want their children to become. And, when they show us that they have that spark, that's when they go to stage 2: Perform Training.
They come to our basic teacher training (which lasts several days) and, if they get through that, they are asked to watch several classes. After that, we start them off gently with an Area Partner evaluating their first class and discussing it with them at length. If they do well, they can finally start teaching for us under the supervision of an experienced Producer. Phew!
It really is difficult to get into Perform and I always joke that I wouldn't get in these days! But it is true. We are the only organization of our size that isn't franchised and that's why we are able to guarantee that every teacher is excellent - because we select and train them ourselves.
Most Perform teachers are professional actors and many go off to do acting jobs when it happens for them. Yes, there are staff changes, but I made a decision early on that I'd rather have excellent teachers who change sometimes rather than mediocre teachers who are always there.
I have a fabulous team that help with the recruitment and training, headed up by Simon Fielding who has just celebrated his 10th year with Perform. He's now our ?Regional Partner' and his job spec is ?to make the workshops even more fantastic?. So, even though we are in a period of growth, we still want our classes to get better and better.
Finding people with the P Factor is very difficult and we are constantly on the look out for new teachers. If you have any friends who might be suitable and ready for the challenge, please tell them to send their CV and photo to [email protected]