Arts education in schools is being sidelined, with theatre trips scaled back and drama teachers made redundant, England’s biggest producing theatres have warned.
Leaders from 13 of England’s biggest theatres have collectively cautioned that their ability to work with schools is being significantly impacted by a narrowing curriculum and cuts to arts subjects, following the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.
Artistic and executive directors from producing venues including Bristol Old Vic, Leeds Playhouse, the Royal Exchange and Chichester Festival Theatre spoke of the “deeply worrying” and “galling” effects of shrinking arts education in England.
In total, leaders from 13 producing houses took part in a survey about changes to their work with secondary schools over the past five years. They also included Birmingham Rep, Sheffield Theatres, Nottingham Playhouse, the Royal and Derngate, Curve in Leicester, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Northern Stage, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and Theatre Royal Plymouth.
In a joint statement, Chichester’s executive director Kathy Bourne and artistic director Daniel Evans warned that the “troubling” decline of arts in schools comes at a time when the sector’s role in supporting access to culture is growing.
“While arts organisations are being encouraged to prioritise offering opportunities for diverse communities to express or experience creativity, it’s galling to see the barriers to those opportunities becoming evermore present in our education system,” they said.
Leeds Playhouse artistic director James Brining added that he believed cuts to the secondary school curriculum were “deeply worrying”.
The findings of the survey also led some to express concern over the widening gap in provision between private and state education, with 77% of leaders witnessing a change in this area.
Nottingham Playhouse chief executive Stephanie Sirr said the gap between cultural engagement for state and privately educated young people had never been bigger, meaning opportunities were “increasingly [only] open to the elite”.
Meanwhile, Tom Morris, artistic director of Bristol Old Vic, added that such opportunities were being “ruthlessly stripped out” of state education, “depriving pupils of the advantages offered to their wealthier peers and increasing social division at a time when we should be doing all we can to reduce it”.
Of those surveyed, 92% said they had witnessed fundamental, major or significant change in the value placed on creativity by schools and the focus on a core curriculum over the past five years, as well as seeing cuts to arts subjects.
Meanwhile, 85% of leaders believed school trips to the theatre had been significantly impacted, both in terms of the number of schools attending and the frequency.
Other findings included:
The survey was carried out by Brownlee Consulting in March and is part of a wider study exploring the changing environment of England’s producing theatres to be published later this year.
Earlier this year, organisations including the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe also spoke of their own challenges around declining education visits and increasing requests from schools for subsidised tickets.