Philip Pullman says tests and league tables have left arts education in a 'terrible state'

Tes Reporter

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Author Philip Pullman has warned that an obsession with league tables and exams has left arts education in a "terrible state".

The award-winning writer claimed that the emphasis on test and exam results was depriving pupils of visits to the theatre and concerts and urged the government to make such trips a "firmly established part of the curriculum".

"I do worry what happens to children when they're deprived of these things by these blasted league tables and this crazy assumption that we've got to test everything,” he said.

"We do hear this from theatres that we're not getting any children, because the schools don't want to let them out because it takes time away from their lessons. That's a terrible state to have got into, absolutely terrible.

"It should be a firmly established part of the curriculum that children should visit theatres and concert halls," he added during an interview to celebrate the 200th edition of British children's comic The Phoenix.

Statistics from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport show that the proportion of primary-aged children who have visited the theatre fell from nearly half (47.1 per cent) in 2008-9 to less than a third (32.3 per cent) in 2014-15.

Mr Pullman, whose His Dark Materials books were turned into a play at the National Theatre, praised JK Rowling's new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for introducing children to theatre.

However, he warned that it was up to teachers, parents and other adults to take children there.

"Theatre is one of those things that children will love if they're helped to get there to see it. No child will find his or her own way to the theatre," he said.

He also cautioned that it was "a pity if people are going to be priced out of it", with top tier tickets to the Harry Potter play going for £130.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “At the heart of our commitment to extending opportunity is our belief that all pupils should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education – the arts are key to this, and we know that many schools already take their pupils to the theatre and concerts as part of a broad and balanced programme of learning.

“Pupils have to study drama, as part of the English curriculum, and dance, as part of the PE curriculum, and music and art and design are compulsory subjects for 5 – 14 year olds. And at GCSE, the number of entries in drama, music and art and design subjects are up since last year.”


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