Working class youngsters deserve the opportunity to shine in Hollywood but will Labour remember its promise in government? - Jayne Dowle

A big round of applause to Sir Keir Starmer for saying that working class youngsters deserve the same opportunities to become Hollywood stars as limelight-hogging posh kids.

It is “immoral” that children from less-privileged families are being denied the same opportunities to shine on stage and screen and in the music business as private school pupils, says the Labour leader, who played the flute, piano, violin and recorder at his own state school.

New analysis by his party, designed to highlight the failings of the state sector to provide creative education, finds that nearly half of all British cultural stars nominated for major awards in the last decade were educated at private school.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Indeed, earlier this week British-American director Christoper Nolan, who won an Oscar for his film Oppenheimer, reminded us that this is the case; he was educated at Barrow Hills, a Surrey prep school, followed by Haileybury and Imperial Service College, an independent school in Hertfordshire.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives for a visit to a school in Harlow in Essex. PIC: Ian West/PA WireLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives for a visit to a school in Harlow in Essex. PIC: Ian West/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives for a visit to a school in Harlow in Essex. PIC: Ian West/PA Wire

After studying the backgrounds of 130 British performers, directors and screenwriters nominated for the main prizes at the Oscars, Baftas and Mercury prize over the last decade, Labour found that 40 per cent went to private school, whereas only about 6 per cent of the population are privately educated.

Although 94 per cent of children go to a state school, just 60 per cent of British actors, directors and musicians nominated in the last decade were state-educated. Labour says that this unequal state of affairs is holding back “masses of potential” that could contribute to British cultural life and keep it thriving into the future.

“It is short-sighted and frankly immoral, to allow arts and culture to become the domain of a few privileged pupils,” says Starmer, who attended a selective state grammar school followed by Oxford University.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the scheme of things, with the economy stuttering, the cost of living crisis getting worse and political rancour running rife, you might think that enabling children from modest or less-privileged backgrounds to become actors, dancers and singers shouldn’t be much of a priority.

As the mother of a daughter who has danced (ballet, tap, modern) since she was three years old, I would disagree.

Taking part in the performing arts teaches children so many skills and qualities; not just the ability to entertain others, but confidence, poise, determination, ambition.

From youth am-dram to experimental theatre groups, there are opportunities within even the most deprived towns for young people to practise their art.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, it is a very rare talent that can go straight from school and into the big time. The reality means studying for a degree of some sort; affording this can be an insurmountable barrier.

These days, most drama schools are affiliated to universities or set up as higher education institutions, which means that tuition fees and maintenance can be covered by student loans.

However, some dance colleges and music conservatoires remain effectively ‘private’ and require fees from the student’s – or their family’s – own pocket. Some providers also require students to pay additional tuition fees that are not covered by the loan, or the full loan amount does not cover the cost of the tuition.

And then, of course, even after graduation, chasing that ‘big break’ costs money too, in living costs that poorer families simply can’t subsidise but richer ones can.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Addressing this inequitable situation would demand a root and branch re-think of higher education funding in the UK.

I have heard far too many young people say that it’s not worth studying creative subjects at school because it “won’t lead anywhere”. No wonder then that according to the Campaign for the Arts, a charitable alliance, there has been a 47 per cent fall in arts subjects being taken at GCSE between 2010 and 2023.

This is hugely because years of education policy under successive Conservative governments have pushed STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, whilst overlooking the fact that many youngsters are alienated along the way.Labour is right to signal the need for an immediate about-turn, but bringing about real and lasting change will take the kind of courage and commitment all performers and creatives require. Will Labour forget their passionate promise once in power? We won’t know until the curtain goes up.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.