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Philip Pullman calls for compulsory theatre trips in schools

Philip Pullman criticised schools for focusing on "blasted league tables" and exam results. Photo: The Spider Hill Philip Pullman criticised schools for focusing on "blasted league tables" and exam results. Photo: The Spider Hill
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His Dark Materials novelist Phillip Pullman has urged the government to make theatre trips a compulsory part of the school curriculum.

The writer, whose books have inspired several stage adaptations, condemned the falling numbers of children seeing theatre through educational visits as “a terrible state”.

He then blamed the decline on schools’ overbearing focus on school league tables and exam results.

Government figures released last year revealed only a third of five to 10-year-olds took part in theatre and drama activities in 2013/14, compared with nearly half of all children the same age in 2008/09.

Speaking to the Press Association, Pullman said: “We do hear this from theatres that we’re not getting any children because the schools don’t want to let them out because it takes time away from their lessons. That’s a terrible state to have got into, absolutely terrible.”

The author added: “I do worry what happens to children when they’re deprived of these things by these blasted league tables and this crazy assumption that we’ve got to test everything.”

He went on to say it should be a “firmly established part of the curriculum that children should visit theatres and concert halls”.

Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was adapted into a major two-part play by the National Theatre in 2003, while more recently his fairytale collection Grimm Tales was staged at Shoreditch Town Hall.

He said it was up to teachers and parents to take children to the theatre so they can develop an enjoyment for it.

“Theatre is one of those things that children will love if they’re helped to get there to see it. No child will find his or her own way to the theatre,” he said.

Pullman also praised upcoming the West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – which sold 175,000 tickets in its first day of sale – saying it would introduce children to theatre who had not previously experienced it.

In June, leading children’s theatre the Unicorn in revealed school trips to the venue had fallen by 6% in the past year.

In response to Pullman’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “At the heart of our commitment to extending opportunity is our belief that all pupils should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education. The arts are key to this, and we know that many schools already take their pupils to the theatre and concerts as part of a broad and balanced programme of learning.”

She clarified: “Pupils have to study drama, as part of the English curriculum, and dance, as part of the PE curriculum, and music and art and design are compulsory subjects for 5 to 14 year olds. And at GCSE, the number of entries in drama, music and art and design subjects are up since last year.”

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