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Indhu Rubasingham and James Graham call on industry to fight decline in arts education

The panel at the Big Arts and Education Debate at Birmingham Repertory Theatre The panel at the Big Arts and Education Debate at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo: Gil Gillis
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Leading figures including director Indhu Rubasingham and playwright James Graham have warned that opportunities for young people to enter the profession are becoming “scarcer and scarcer” due to the decline of art education in schools.

They were among panellists discussing arts provision in schools as part of The Big Arts and Education Debate, which was organised by blogger Carl Woodward and held at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on April 20. The participants warned that the industry’s diversity would suffer as a result of the decline.

Kiln artistic director Rubasingham said: “I’m really scared, I think the opportunities for people getting into the industry are getting scarcer and scarcer.”

She added: “It’s so frustrating that the creative industries are worth £91.8 billion to the UK economy and [the government] is not valuing them.

“We’re world-class [at the arts], and if we keep going this way, we’re not going to keep the pipeline, we’re not going to be able to get a diversity of voices, in terms of class and race.”

Rubasingham urged the industry to consider how to get this message out to the public, and how to engage with parents so that they understand the full range of careers available to young people in the performing arts.

Graham argued that the industry had become complacent, leading to a situation in which the arts are no longer valued in schools. He urged artists and theatre leaders to “put everything else down and fight this”.

He said: “It’s incomprehensible to me that in the country of Shakespeare, we have a standard qualification [the English Baccalaureate] that has no recognition of the arts at all.

“I think we’ve sleepwalked into that and tolerated that, and I blame myself and my industry, I certainly don’t blame teachers who have tried to fight for this for a long time.”

He added: “It’s our responsibility in this industry to stop what we are doing, put everything else down, and fight this. This is the most important conversation we should be having as an industry.”

Ali Warren, who is on the executive committee of National Drama, an association for drama teachers, argued that campaigners needed to engage with headteachers at schools to convince them of the importance of the arts.

Warren said: “Drama teachers work above and beyond what is necessary, it’s not them that are the problem. The problem is with headteachers. You can talk to one drama teacher who will say – ‘I’m fine, my headteacher is supportive of me’, then you can go to the next school down the road and ask them, and they say ‘Actually I think I’m going to lose my job’.”

She added: “Headteachers have the autonomy, they are the game-changers here. If they are afraid of OFSTED, or if they want to make a name for themselves of being the leader of an improving school, they will ditch the arts.”

The Stage recently reported that more than 56 industry leaders, including English National Ballet’s Tamara Rojo and Society of London Theatre chief executive Julian Bird, had signed a letter calling on the government to do more to support the arts in schools.

In January this year, figures including Graham warned that drama provision in secondary schools was “in crisis”.

Drama teaching in schools ‘in crisis’, experts warn

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