Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015 compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’

Unicorn Theatre's production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people’.

‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less-able students in particular.’

Number of drama and arts teachers falling in state schools

A report into the value of culture to contemporary British society has revealed that since 2010, there has been an 8% decline in the number of state school drama teachers, and a 4% decline in hours taught for the subject.

The year-long project, led by the University of Warwick, has resulted in the publication of Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth. Other key findings in the report include:

  • Alongside the decline of specialist drama teachers in England’s state schools, other creative subjects have also been affected: the number of design and technology teachers, as well as the number of hours taught, has fallen by 11%; and art and design teachers have reduced by 4% with a decline of 6% in teaching hours.
  • Young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life; and least likely to be employed in the cultural and creative industries.
  • The costs related to engaging in extracurricular activities mean low-income families are often excluded from creative and cultural opportunities: 22% of parents in the higher social groups pay £500+ a year on extracurricular activities compared to 10% of parents in middle and lower groups.
Warwick

The report led by Warwick University is the result of a year-long project

The report makes a number of recommendations, several of which are aimed at Ofsted: the organisation should not award schools with an ‘outstanding’ status without evidence of a strong cultural and creative education, and should ensure – alongside the Department for Education – that young people up to the age of 16 receive a cultural education in order to encourage life-long engagement with the arts. They also recommend that Ofsted encourage Arts Council England’s aim to have 50% of schools achieving an ArtsMark award.

Other recommendations made include ensuring there is adequate careers advice available to those interested in pursuing a career in the cultural and creative industries, and the creation, by the government, of an arts and culture pupil premium fund and a national creative apprenticeship ascheme.

Commission member and Warwick education researcher Professor Jonothan Neelands said: ‘We are concerned that the educational system as a whole is not focusing on the future needs of the cultural and creative industries and the broader needs of a creative and successful UK. This needs to be addressed across our schools. However, we are particularly concerned that children born into low-income families with low levels of educational qualifications are the least likely to experience culture as part of their home education.

‘Without educational intervention we are in danger of allowing a two-tier creative and cultural ecosystem in which the most advantaged in social and economic terms are also the most advantaged in benefitting economically, socially and personally from the full range of experiences and value in that prevailing system.’

Vikki Heywood, chair of the Warwick commission report, said: ‘The key message from this report is that the government and the cultural and creative industries need to take a united and coherent approach that guarantees equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life. There are barriers and inequalities in Britain today that prevent this from being a universal human right. This is bad for business and bad for society.’

Read the full report at www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/warwickcommission/futureculture/finalreport

Specially priced performance of The Scottsboro Boys for low-income families

Mousetrap Theatre Projects and West End producer Paula Marie Black organised a family performance on 5 November of The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre, London.

ScottsboroBoys 12

The Scottsboro Boys runs at The Garrick Theatre, London (Credit: Johan Persson)

Those invited to attend were families who have previously taken part in Mousetrap’s Family First Nights (FFN) programme. FFN, which has been running for the last 17 years, runs a five-week summer programme where low-income families (identified by organisations such as social service agencies, housing associations, charities and community projects) can choose from 30 theatre productions in London and the West End with the support of Mousetrap. FFN participants are then invited to theatre, opera and dance events throughout the year.

The performance of The Scottsboro Boys had specially priced tickets, with children’s at £2.50–£5 and adults at £5–£10. The event sold out with 180 families in attendance. The performance time was moved to an earlier slot to 7.15pm to accommodate the needs of those with young children.

Susan Whiddington, director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects, said, ‘We are delighted to invite our families to this spectacular and very moving musical and are incredibly grateful to the generosity of Paula Marie Black for making it possible. We believe the electricity and the energy of this family audience will be inspirational to the actors and everyone involved in the production.’