Cultural figures and teachers denounce the abolition of arts in schools project

Anger at cut in funding for Creative Partnerships which has brought musicians, artists and actors to classrooms for a decade

The abolition of a flagship scheme to improve the teaching of the arts in English schools has been condemned by teachers and leading names in British culture as a "foolhardy" move that threatens the education of the most vulnerable children.

All new funding for Creative Partnerships, a £38.1m-a-year initiative that has brought professional musicians, artists and actors into schools for nearly a decade, has been withdrawn by the Arts Council in England as a result of coalition cuts announced in November.

This weekend acclaimed actor Sir Ian McKellen joined protesters calling for schools to keep their gates open to professionals. "In my visits to schools the stimulus of meeting people from outside is clear. It lets children know that there are people who care about them in the world beyond their school," he said.

His words were echoed by Sir Denis Healey, the former Labour chancellor and accomplished watercolourist. "The arts are one of the great pleasures of life and teaching them to children is vital," he said. "It is important that we do it well."

Implemented as a result of cuts to the Arts Council announced in the comprehensive spending review, the imminent demise of Creative Partnerships provoked outrage among those who had seen it flourish in more than 2,500 schools. Set up in 2002, the scheme has been shown to improve standards of education across the curriculum and to bring down truanting figures.

Research carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that every £1 of investment in Creative Partnerships generated £15.30 in economic benefits.

"The fantastic progress made in the last few years is now seriously under threat, and those young people who are most likely to miss out on these opportunities are the most vulnerable," said Paul Collard, chief executive of Creativity, Culture and Education, the national charity that runs Creative Partnerships. "Once these opportunities are gone there is no turning back the clock."

These fears are echoed by Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, who argues that recent moves to take the teaching of the arts more seriously are reversing under the coalition. "The outrage people feel is because this is a 100% cut," said the Labour MP. "It is completely ripping out the whole framework."

Alison Peacock, the headteacher of a Hertfordshire primary school that has gone from "special measures" status to an Ofsted rating of "outstanding" in just three years, said: "All the research evidence shows very clearly that children learn best in a rich and diverse environment. We should be offering our children the best that has ever been thought or said right across the curriculum."

Culture minister Ed Vaizey responded by underlining his faith in cultural learning. "This was an Arts Council decision, but clearly headteachers have to use what is available to them creatively in a period of reduced finances. It will also be up to local cultural organisations to get involved."


Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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