Arts Council chairman concerned with arts education gap

Art Council England's chairman Peter Bazalgette

Art Council England’s chairman Peter Bazalgette

This week has seen Arts Council England’s chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette address the gap in arts education between students educated in private schools and state schools.

Bazalgette, speaking to The Stage, raised his concerns about the marginalisation of the arts for state school students: ‘I can’t see why 7% to 9% of the population who go to private school should have a fantastic and privileged education in the performing arts, and why it’s being marginalised in state schools. When you see BAFTA [awards] coming around and three of the actors nominated are from Eton you think, great for them, they are wonderful actors, but something odd is going on here. Why is that happening?’

Eton College has produced actors such as Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Harry Lloyd. Other privately educated actors include Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, and Rory Kinnear.

Bazalgette suggested that one of the possible routes to remedy the issue would be through Ofsted: ‘When it is inspecting schools, [Ofsted] should not be allowed to give any school an “excellent” rating unless it has a very good offering in performing and visual arts for its pupils.’

Speaking at Sheffield’s international documentary festival Doc/Fest, Bazalgette added to his comments: ‘Seven per cent of the population go to private schools, and in those private schools they get an absolutely, crackingly good education in the performing and visual arts. Ninety-three per cent don’t go to those private schools and, in some state schools, people get a wonderful education in visual and performing arts as well. But in quite a lot of them they don’t.

‘Visual performing arts have been marginalised in some areas in the curriculum as the curriculum becomes more instrumentalist and focused on what’s known as the Stem agenda – science, technology, engineering and maths. If there is one message, we say Steam, not Stem – put the “a” for arts in.’

Stage and screen inundated with Eton alumni

Eton College has a prestigious reputation for producing Britain’s politicians and diplomats, but there are an increasing amount of British stage and screen stars that are coming through those infamous Eton doors. With a 400 seat main theatre, along with two studio spaces on the school’s premises, it’s no surprise Eton college students get a taste for drama during their time there. Each year the school has a director-in-residence to oversee the 8 or 9 house productions performed by the students.

Most recently the big names emerging from Eton have been, Henry Faber, Harry Lloyd, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. Other members of the Eton alumni have their work cut out for them to keep up with rising star Eddie Redmayne who has started off the new year with roles in some of the most talked about dramas, both on stage and on screen. Redmayne has most recently appeared in the BBC’s adaptation of novel Birdsong. He also had the lead role in the Oscar nominated film My Week with Marilyn along with fellow Eton attendee Dominic West.

At the Critic’s Circle Theatre Awards this month, Eddie Redmayne walked away with the prize for Best Shakespearean Performance for his role in Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse, which is sold out until the end of its run in February, after which, Redmayne will work on a film version of the West End favourite Les Miserables. 

Redmayne’s fellow classmates are also having their own fair share of success; Tom Hiddleston will also be venturing into Shakespeare, filming a television version of Henry IV. He appeared in Woody Allen’s acclaimed Midnight in Paris last year and currently can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the acclaimed War Horse. Harry Lloyd is also appearing at cinemas around the country, starring in the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady. Lloyd and Henry Faber will also star alongside Hiddleston in Henry IV.