When you hire a plumber to come to your home the first thing that anybody will tell you is "hire a person recommended by somebody that you know". A personal recommendation is worth its weight in gold and helps you to avoid a massive bill and pools of water all over your kitchen floor.
The same goes for any trade, be they electricians, builders, designers or dance teachers.
Now, allow us to introduce you to The Dance Register, a website that claims to bring dance teachers to the masses with a simple search engine and a self enforced code of conduct.
The website (www.thedanceregister.co.uk) was created with the backing of several dance organisations. The Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET), The Dance Training and Accreditation Partnership (DTAP), DanceUK, The Foundation for Community Dance (FCD) and The Exercise Movement & Dance Partnership (EMDP).
DTAP however are the ones responsible for it existing and they received funding from Arts Council England to make it happen.
Rhyme and Reason
On the "about" section of the website The Register claims to provide;
"a nationally recognised, free to search 'one-stop shop' website for people looking for a suitably qualified and/or experienced dance teacher"
and the ability to;
"enable employers, parents, carers and participants to identify dance teachers who are committed to sound professional practice and high quality dance teaching and leadership."
All of that sounds great, on a funding application, but in reality such a website cannot possibly provide any of those things.
To get on The Register you have to meet a minimum set of requirements that include being over the age of 18, being an EU citizen or a non-citizen with a work permit, having insurance, first aid training and a suitably obscure "[commitment] to ongoing training and continuing professional development."
If you are wondering where the "peer reviewed and verified capability to actually teach any kind of dance whatsoever" is then you will not find it on The Dance Register.
DTAP will also charge you £40 if you want to join using this direct method.
Another way to get yourself on the list is to join via one of the above mentioned "gateway organisations" but that has the same problem. Being a member of any of those organisations is proof of nothing more than the fact that you are a member of that organisation.
It's All In The Data
What of the data that the website actually provides? Searches are a pretty simple affair. You just type in your postcode along with the age group and the style of dance you want the teacher to teach and hit the button.
The "advanced search" option will let you add a few more details and search by town or city if you wish.
You will then be presented with a list of teachers that are close to you geographically.
Depending on your where you live you may or may not get lucky. Most of the profiles we checked on The Register were completely empty apart from the teachers name.
A spokesperson for DanceUK told us that this was because the site was new and that people would add more and more information at a later date. That seems unlikely however because why would you miss out what the site deems to be some of the most important information to begin with, the information about your professional qualifications?
empty profiles and personal data on The Dance Register
Another issue with the site is the fact that, in some cases, it was revealing home addresses and personal phone numbers for the registered teacher.
DanceUK explained that individuals have to "opt-in" to having this data shown to the public. That may be the case but it is incredibly bad practice to even allow such information to be shown at all. Not even Facebook, with all its personal privacy issues, allows that kind of data to be stored on their website.
With the profiles where more detailed information had been added we still run into the original problem. All you have are words on a website and a lots of acronyms for professional memberships and nothing more.
The teachers on The Dance Register may well be the best and brightest in the history of teaching dance but without further evidence, how are we or anybody else to know this?
Also, if the implication is that being on The Register means you are a good teacher, what if you choose not to be on it? Is there a suggestion that you have something to hide? Is this a case of "you're a good teacher if we say you're a good teacher?"
If you are on the site you have committed, although you are not legally obliged, to follow the "code of conduct". This is a torturously long document comprised of no less than 53 bullet points covering everything from the language you use in class to knowing all about, somewhat ironically, the data protection act.
Should DTAP become aware of a teacher breaching the code of conduct, it's not entirely clear how that would happen, then said teacher would be subjected to the DTAP "disciplinary procedure".
The procedure itself is, as you would expect, quite wordy but this particular paragraph stood out.
"Please note that if, during investigation, a breach of the law is found to have occurred, DTAP will immediately refer the matter to the appropriate legal body and suspend a Dance Professional's membership of The Dance Register until such a time as any legal investigation has been concluded."
Again, it's not at all clear how an organisation with no legal powers, no subpoena power or power of arrest is going to be able to investigate anything to the point where they would discover a "breach of the law". At most it will all be a lot of hearsay and not much else sans any video or audio recordings.
The worst punishment that DTAP can hand out is throwing a member off The Register.
When we asked the spokesperson to comment on the disciplinary procedure and the enforcement of it they pretty much gave us the above quoted paragraph.
Additionally they told us this;
"the Dance Register has been created as a database of dance teachers. We are clear that we are not commenting on the teachers' ability but that we have checked that the teachers on the register meet the minimum benchmarks of the industry and adhere to the code of practice. The website states that employers should undertake their own formal checks for employment purposes."
Straight from the horses mouth dear readers, they "are not commenting on the teachers' ability."
If the Dance Register cannot prove the capabilities of a particular teacher then why does it even exist to begin with?
The Dance Register is evidence of nothing more than you have your name on a website. The addition of the CDET and DTAP logos, among others, across the bottom would appear to lend credibility (at least for the unwary) but membership or association with organisations is evidence of just that, membership or association.
These organisations, with paying members, have no way of verifying the skills, or lack thereof, of any of their members when it comes to something as subjective as dance teaching.
Anybody can obtain insurance, a CRB check and first aid training, pass a few courses and call themselves a dance teacher. It doesn't mean they are any good at teaching though.
A doctor trains for several years to obtain a medical licence but even that doesn't prove they are actually any good at treating patients.
Good teachers, much like good doctors, are identified through peer recommendation (and peer review on occasion), through evidence of their achievements, through actually witnessing them at their place of work so their their skill set can be verified by other skilled professionals.
The suggestion that IDAT, CDET or ENCP have created a reliable and verifiable directory of good dance teachers is demonstrably false.
Of course, the terms and conditions of using the site remove any trace of liability from those putting their names to this website. If you hire a teacher that turns out to be a complete basked case then it's not their fault.
As for Arts Council England and their part in this? At first a spokesperson for ACE told us that "the Register is a hugely useful tool for the dance industry". When we asked them for evidence to support that claim they changed tack to being "confident that it will be widely used in the dance industry."
DTAP received £184,936 toward the;
"1. refinement and dissemination of the National Occupation Standards (NOS) in Dance Teaching & Leading which will include making them applicable to specialist markets, and creating a qualification and training framework for the dance sector
2. building capacity and further developing the Diploma in Dance Teaching & Leading (DDTAL) qualification
3. marketing and communications to develop awareness and take-up of DTAP's activities, and in particular work to make sure the Dance Register becomes self-financing"
If the Dance Register is any indication of the thinking underpinning all of the above the we do not hold out hope that anything credible will come from DTAP's endeavours.
Teaching dance is not like training to be a plumber, we think it's a lot more important than that.