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Theatre leaders back Prince Charles over arts education with warnings that cuts will ‘strangle’ the UK

Industry leaders including Lenny Henry, Arlene Phillips and Gregory Doran have joined Prince Charles in calling for every child to have access to a “vital” arts education.

David Morrissey, Meera Syal and Sheila Atim also advocated for the arts in schools, warning that cuts to creative subjects would “strangle us as a nation”.

They were speaking to The Stage at an event lobbying for the arts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, organised by Prince Charles’ charity Children and the Arts.

Attendees of the event, who also included Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Lloyd Webber, released a joint statement arguing that every child should have access to the arts at school. Prince Charles claimed that the country does not fully recognise the value of its creative industries.

Prince Charles: ‘Every child should have access to the arts at school’ [1]

Henry warned that cuts in schools meant children from working-class backgrounds were unfairly “going to miss out” on the benefits of the arts.

He said: “You are leaving the arts to extra-curricular activities and parents paying for them, and a lot of parents can’t afford that.”

Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Doran said it was important that children from all backgrounds “see a route into the arts and that their parents don’t feel that this is a dead end and it’s not viable”.

“That’s a really dangerous route to go,” he added.

Morrissey told The Stage he was worried about a “subtle divide” between children in private education and those from lower-income families at state schools. He warned that cuts to arts in education would “strangle us as a nation”.

“It’s really urgent, we’re losing the voice of a whole generation of people,” he added.

Morrissey said the government regarded the arts as “soft subjects”, an attitude he said was “disgraceful”. He added: “This is cultural – we don’t like our children going to school and having fun, so if we see education being delivered and our children enjoying it, there’s something in our psyche that says” ‘That’s wrong, they’re not learning anything.’ And that needs to change.”

Phillips and Atim echoed Morrissey’s thoughts. Atim claimed the arts “enrich everyone’s lives in different ways”. She added: “The arts make me passionate about life. I think [if the cuts continue] it will make people despondent and apathetic.”

Phillips said: “Every child needs to feel that the end goal isn’t just an exam that tells you whether or not you are success or a failure.”

Syal argued that a change in government policy was the first step towards protecting the arts in schools. She said: “Reversing the changes that Michael Gove shovelled in with the English Baccalaureate would be a start.

“I really feel concerned. I think we’re heading to become a nation of crushed spirits, where having an imagination and creativity and not fitting into the education sausage machine isn’t valued. In the future we’re going to need those kinds of blue-sky thinkers.”

Nick Gibb, minister for school standards, said: “We agree that all pupils should have access to the arts. That is why music and art remains compulsory up to age 14 and we put more money into education programmes to support these subjects than any other subject, aside from physical education.

“This includes nearly half a billion pounds to fund a range of extra-curricular projects, such as workshops with the British Film Institute, lessons with the Royal Ballet School, Art and Design Saturday Clubs and the National Youth Music Organisations.”

The comments came as Labour vowed to put creativity “at the heart of the school curriculum” [2] with a new £160 million annual fund to support cultural activities in education.

Outgoing artistic director of London’s Lyric Hammersmith Sean Holmes also recently condemned “worrying” cuts to the arts [3] in schools.