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Theatre figures condemn ‘catastrophic’ erosion of arts education

Nikolai Foster. Photo: John Hunter Nikolai Foster. Photo: John Hunter
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Theatre figures have condemned the “catastrophic” reduction of arts education in schools, claiming it is having serious impacts on the diversity of the theatre industry.

Curve artistic director Nikolai Foster led criticisms of the shrinking emphasis on creative education, claiming that “pathways” in place several decades ago have now disappeared.

“Twenty-five or 30 years ago… in schools there were teachers who were encouraged, because of a curriculum, to share these great plays, these great stories. There were drama clubs, dance classes. Drama GCSEs and A Levels, theatre studies – these were subjects that the teachers were able to teach freely and speak about passionately, and have value for the students,” Foster said.

He was speaking as part of a panel on training opportunities at a diversity conference held in Leicester, at Curve.

Foster went on to say: “It seems more and more nowadays that, apart from the syllabus being shrunk, a lot of students are channelled into a more academic route… Because of funding being squeezed, fewer young people can know that there is a drama club, or know that there’s a youth theatre. That’s the very first seed, and there’s a barrier.”

His criticisms were echoed by playwright and poet Emteaz Hussain, who said the marginalisation of drama in schools was cutting off vital entry points for children from diverse backgrounds.

Hussain described how her own involvement in the arts began at school, but said the role of culture in education was not recognised now:

“One of the things we need to highlight is that the arts are being thrown out of schools. That to me is absolutely catastrophic.

“That’s where you first access it, [children] first unlock it there… We’ve got to connect it with the economic cuts and the austerity, that’s what’s stopping it.”

Casting director David Grindrod went on to say that the current situation meant parents and guardians needed more encouragement that arts and culture were worthwhile for their children.

“Our arts in schools are being diminished totally, and therefore parents can’t go along to see their kids in school plays and say, ‘Oh that’s great. I’m really proud of my child. Let them do it.’ We’re losing all of that,” he said.

It comes as arts education campaigners continue to fight for the government to alter proposals for the English Baccalaureate, which sets out compulsory subjects at GCSE level but does not oblige pupils to take a creative subject.

Last week, new figures from the Department for Education showed the number of students taking at least one arts subject had dropped in the past year.

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