Philip Pullman calls for theatre and concert visits on school curriculum
Philip Pullman warned that obsession with league tables and examinations has left arts education in a "terrible state".
The award-winning author admitted he worried about effects of depriving children of visits to theatre shows and concerts and urged the Government to make them a "firmly established part of the curriculum".
"I do worry what happens to children whey they're deprived of these things by these blasted league tables and this crazy assumption that we've got to test everything.
"We do hear this from theatres that we're not getting any children because the schools don't want to let them out because it takes time away from their lessons. That's a terrible state to have got into, absolutely terrible.
"It should be a firmly established part of the curriculum that children should visit theatres and concert halls," he added.
Statistics from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport showed that the number of primary-aged children who had visited the theatre had fallen from nearly half (47.1%) in 2008/9 to under a third (32.3%) in 2014/15.
Pullman, who had His Dark Materials book turned into a play at the National Theatre, praised JK Rowling's new play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child for introducing children to theatre.
However, he warned that it was up to teachers, parents and adults to take children there.
"Theatre is one of those things that children will love if they're helped to get there to see it. No child will find his or her own way to the theatre," he said.
He also cautioned that it was "a pity if people are going to be priced out of it", with top tier tickets to the Harry Potter play going for £130.
Pullman is one of the famous authors celebrating the 200th edition of The Phoenix, a beloved British children's comic that he recommended as a "marvellous way of helping children to read".
The Northern Lights author said that technology like tablets and kindles were "quite efficient", "nothing that beats the pure joy of turning a page and having something physically there in your hand".
The edition, released on October 30, and with a special cover by Children's Laureate Chris Riddell, marks a milestone in the British comic industry, becoming the first independent comic to reach 200 issues since 1969.
The Phoenix was launched in 2012 and voted "the second best comic in the world" by Time magazine.
Pullman will be contributing a new comic strip for 2016 about John Blake, an English boy from the 1920s with a time travelling schooner.
On top of stories from established authors, the issue will include strips from readers Jordan Vigay, 14, and Jonny Toons, 11, alongside a new search for a star competition to find the next young comic artist.
Former children's laureate Malorie Blackman also sent her congratulations to the comic.
"The Phoenix Comic is such a treat...The stories are funny, thrilling, colourful and a joy to read. It truly is a comic for everyone. Here's to the next 200 issues and beyond," she said.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "At the heart of our commitment to extending opportunity is our belief that all pupils should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education - the arts are key to this, and we know that many schools already take their pupils to the theatre and concerts as part of a broad and balanced programme of learning."