Theatre engagement among children in England has decreased by more than a quarter in the past decade and is falling faster than any other creative activity, according to newly released statistics.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s 2018/19 Taking Part Survey reported that the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds engaging with theatre either inside or outside school over the past 12 months fell from 58.8% in 2017/18 to 50.7% in 2018/19.
DCMS has classed this year-on-year drop as significant, however since 2009/10 the figure has fallen from 69.5%, which works out as a 27% decrease.
The annual Taking Part Survey records arts engagement across the country over the past year for children aged between five and 15.
The most recent figures show that just 50.7% of young people aged between 11 to 15 engaged with theatre or drama activities in 2018/19.
Further decline in future years would mean that less than half of English children aged between 11 and 15 would experience any theatre over a year-long period.
It is also nearly double the drop in the previous year, when participation rates for theatre and drama fell 4.7 percentage points from 63.5% to 58.8%.
Among children aged five to 10, theatre was the least popular art form in 2018/19, but participation rates remained steady. There were no recorded increases for any art form in either age group.
The results also showed drama to be the most school-dependent of all art forms, meaning young people were less likely to experience theatre outside the classroom than nearly all other creative activities.
In analysing how children experience the arts in 2018/19, it found that 57% of 11 to 15-year-olds only participated in theatre and drama-related activities while at school. Only computer activities were found to be more school-dependent, with 52% of children solely engaging as part of their education.
This is set against ongoing concerns about drama in schools, particularly among this age group.
Arts education campaigners argue the English Baccalaureate, which comprises a core academic curriculum for GCSE and is the government’s preferred approach, is damaging the take-up of creative subjects in schools.
Budgetary and staffing constraints caused by tightened funding for schools are also cited as negatively impacting arts education, including a reduction in school theatre trips.
Theatre leaders have reported declining numbers of school trips to shows, warning that a fall in school engagement with drama is leading to widening social division.