Last week, I visted McQueens Theatre in Wood Green to watch three amazing performances called “Dis[Play] in a Day”, organised by Collage Arts. It was fantastic to see passionate young people and to understand the benefit of theatre and drama for school children.
Unfortunately this Tory Government doesn’t value the arts. Thanks to over a decade of cuts to arts teachers and cuts to school budgets, school children today have less access to theatre and drama. What’s worse, when Gavin Williamson was Secretary of State for Education, he announced a 50% cut to the arts in universities. This is a disaster and will widen inequality in the arts industry.
I have written to the Education Secretary to urge him to re-think the Government’s treatment of the arts and to proper fund drama and theatre in schools.
You can read my full letter below:
Dear Mr Zahawi
I am writing to you following a recent visit to a local theatre in my constituency.
I watched three performances called “Dis[Play] in a Day”, organised by Collage Arts, a leading arts development, training and creative regeneration charity in Wood Green. The performances took place in McQueens theatre, a community based black box studio theatre, and was in celebration of World Theatre Day for Children and Young People (20th March 2022).
I thoroughly enjoyed the live performance, particularly after the last two years of the pandemic. The performance was part of a wider national campaign by the Drama and Theatre Education Alliance to highlight the importance of drama and theatre for children and young people.
However, schools in England are facing a chronic lack of funding for the arts. According to your Department’s data, the number of GCSE drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade. A BBC survey in January 2018 showed nine out of 10 secondary schools had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject. Meanwhile, cuts to local authorities have further decimated opportunities for young people to participate in the performing arts. In addition, your predecessor Gavin Williamson MP announced significant cuts to art subjects, including theatre and drama studies, at universities and said that the money would be invested in other subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), medicine and healthcare. I believe these cuts in schools and higher education institutions will have a devastating impact on young people.
The Drama and Theatre Education Alliance are calling for every child and young person to have an entitlement to drama and theatre throughout their education. For this to happen, they are asking for drama to be a subject in the National Curriculum, proper investment for subject specialist teaching, relevant resources and drama and theatre spaces in all schools and a commitment from the Department for Education to act on and disseminate the research that demonstrates the impact of drama and theatre pedagogy on children and young people.
We know that children and young people thrive in schools where drama is accessible. With the support of confident and specialist teachers, drama allows young people to flourish, with boosted creativity and wellbeing.
The value of learning drama is educational, social, moral and economical. According to Arts Council, arts and culture contributed £10.47 billion to the UK economy in 2019 and there were an estimated 363,70 jobs in the sector. As we build back our society from the pandemic, we must not allow theatre, and more widely the arts, to fall behind. The UK has long enjoyed a global reputation as a centre for excellence in the performing arts, both as an exporter of talent and a destination of choice for lovers of culture. But this world-leading industry needs proper investment in schools and local authorities.
Furthermore, I believe that urgent attention must be paid to securing a world-class drama workforce and infrastructure. One of my constituents, John Plews, is the Chair of the Society of Independent Theatres and owner of Upstairs at the Gatehouse, a fantastic London Fringe Theatre. He recently wrote to me about the shortage within the performing arts technical skills sector. He told me, “the situation is becoming increasingly frustrating to producers who are spending a huge amount of time trying to find designers and technicians when we should all be putting our energy into reviving theatre post pandemic”. The Drama and Theatre Education Alliance would like the Government to ensure the sustainability of high quality drama and theatre degree level qualifications and to improve the signposting and career support for those wanting to enter the arts and theatre sectors, not only as actors but as technicians, writers, producers and designers. This would require additional training for theatres owners, teachers, employees and arts educators and would require the full support of the Government.
I would be grateful if you could respond to the above raised concerns as well as clarify what support you intend to provide for education in arts subjects in secondary schools. I would also like to take the opportunity to recommend that you visit McQueens theatre in Wood Green to watch the high quality performances and talk to passionate and exciting young drama enthusiasts.
I look forward to hearing from you.