The MDS is a small and highly-specialised scheme that provides means-tested fee support and grants to designated centres of excellence for the education and vocational training of exceptionally talented young musicians and dancers. It has been in existence for some 40 years.

The scheme provides support with the fees at eight independent specialist schools, 15 Centres for Advanced Training (CATs) and 6 Conservatoires for children aged 8 to 18 (11 to 19 for dance) who have outstanding potential to train for a career in dance or music. MDS allows children from low-income families to train for and reach the pinnacle of music and dance performance.

It represents the ‘top of the pyramid’ for performing arts education and training and is the Government’s main vehicle for funding the training needs of such children. Although small (just over 2300 students a year), the scheme, its beneficiaries, its participating organisations and its patrons have a significant impact on the world of classical music and dance.

For aided boarding pupils, any pupil whose parents have a relevant income of around £12,620 (2012/13) or less is entitled to a free place. For aided day pupils, the threshold is around £15,965, below which the pupil will receive a free place.

There is a sliding scale above the thresholds which determines the size of the parental contribution towards the fees charged. Parental contributions are determined only by reference to gross family income and not by reference to the fees charged at the school attended. The higher the parental income, the greater the contribution the parent is required to make. The Department for Education meets the balance of the approved fees for Aided Pupils after any parental contribution.

Grants for pupils attending a CAT are also means-tested. The full amount will be £3577 a year from September 2013. If you are a parent applying for a place for your child, you will not have to make any contribution if your total family income before tax is £29,340 or less in the tax year ended 5 April 2013.

If your family income is more you will receive a smaller grant and you will have to make a contribution. Means-testing for choir school scholarships mirrors that for MDS schools but is not prescribed in detail by the Department.