Access to the visual arts will be a preserve of privately educated children unless the government takes urgent action to improve the school curriculum, the director of Tate, Maria Balshaw, and the artist Steve McQueen have warned.
Tate has joined forces with McQueen and 35 museums and galleries across the country to complain that the curriculum in England is failing children.
They are calling for an “arts-rich curriculum” as a “lasting legacy” for McQueen’s hugely popular school photo project which filled Tate Britain with thousands of class photos of year 3 children.
Balshaw said access to the arts “must not depend on social and economic advantage”.
She said: “Private schools place a premium on a rich cultural education for their pupils whilst many state schools are starved of the resources to support access to culture and creativity for their pupils.
“We need a level cultural playing field for all children because we want and need visually literate adults. There should be fair access to arts in line with the offer to pupils in Scotland and Wales where the arts are already a core commitment.”
More than 600 schoolchildren a day are visiting Tate Britain to see McQueen’s year 3 photos, which feature a total of 76,146 children – two-thirds of all London seven- and eight-year-olds.
Tate argues that if the decline in secondary school arts provision continues, many of these children may have little opportunity to take art when they move on from primary school.
Balshaw said teachers were too often thwarted in their aspiration to provide an arts-rich education by “the restriction of the curriculum and the dire lack of resources”.
McQueen said the opportunity to study art had been transformative for him. “When I was a kid, I remember my first trip to Tate. It was a real eye-opener. It was wonderful to see an explosion of ideas and creativity, visual creativity. It gave me an understanding that anything was possible,” he said.
“The curriculum needs to be big enough to include all subjects and be all for all children. Art and creativity are so important to science, to maths or to any other academic venture. Cutting arts education means you cut off inventiveness, which impacts on being creative.
“We have many great artists, great thinkers and inventors in the UK and this has come through a sense of possibility. Arts education gives that sense of possibility.”
Tate’s call has been backed by the Plus Tate network of 35 museums and galleries across the UK, ranging from the Baltic in Gateshead to the Towner in Eastbourne.
Martin Clark, the director of Camden Arts Centre and a convenor for Plus Tate’s education working group, said the curriculum was failing young people.
“In a climate where visual literacy, creative thinking and innovation are going to be key to the future of our country, millions of children are being failed by an education system not fit for purpose or for the new realities of the 21st century,” he said.
The decline of arts education in England’s schools is seen by many as one of the most urgent of all cultural issues. Figures from the Cultural Learning Alliance show a 10% decline in pupils taking arts subjects at GCSE between 2017 and 2018. Since 2010 there has been a 35% drop in take-up of arts GCSE subjects.