Sir John was outraged to learn at the conference, sponsored by The TES, that primary teachers were likely to emerge from their training without any knowledge of the arts if current proposals were adopted.
John Tomlinson, chairman of Warwick University's Institute of Education, described the plan to limit the subjects taught to primary student teachers to six as "a total disaster area". He called on educationists to put pressure on HM inspectors and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to prevent it happening.
Ken Robinson, who chairs the NFAE, said the arts and humanities had lost status, time and resources over the past decade as education had come under pressure from politicians to focus on science, technology and maths. And this had been exacerbated by the "creative accountancy" of turning the national curriculum into 10 subjects with the arts reduced to two subjects: art and music with dance as part of physical education, and drama merged with English.
The current view of education was "deeply flawed", he said. The Education Reform Act did not set out to diminish the arts, but they had not got the place they deserved. Arts subjects were seen as something for the less able children to do, a view compounded in higher education.
In today's economic climate, the country could not afford to base its education policy on a narrow range of skills.
"The human mind is multi-faceted; intelligence is plural. Musicians don't compose music because they can't spell. Education should respect different minds."
All the speakers referred to the information superhighway. Film director Sir David Puttnam thought it should be called a "superfootpath" as it allowed users to wander as, when and where they wanted to go.
Mary Marsh, head of Holland Park comprehensive in West London, was concerned about the possible rift between the "information haves and have-nots". Schools and public libraries, especially those in deprived areas, should ensure that they made computers accessible to their local communities, she said.