Britain's leading galleries are losing hundreds of thousands of child visitors every year, raising concerns about the artistic education of the nation's children.
The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) lost thousands of visitors aged 16 or under between 2010 and 2011, according to the institutions' most recent annual performance data, submitted to the Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The National Gallery has been particularly badly hit, losing 100,000 child visitors in each of the last two years, while its overall visitor numbers have soared.
"I think it's the result of a general problem," said Dr John Steers, general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art and Design. "It's a direct result of schools anticipating a likely curriculum change away from creative arts courses. You can't ask kids to pay to travel to London museums on their own. I also think it's about teaching morale. It's just another consequence of Government policy."
In July it emerged that four out of 10 secondary schools had cut key artistic subjects from their curricula as a result of the Government's new English Baccalaureate, introduced earlier this year. Under this system, teenagers are awarded a certificate for achievements in English, maths, science, languages and a humanities subject. A survey of 2,500 teachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers found that 13 per cent had cut arts, drama and music as a result.
A National Portrait Gallery spokesman said "issues beyond its control" had led to a decline in school groups visiting in the last 18 months, including the Icelandic ash cloud, student protests around Trafalgar Square and Tube strikes. He said funding cuts had made it harder for teachers to accompany school visits.
A National Gallery spokeswoman said its figures were based on an external research company's data. She said: "Despite the economic downturn and changes in the educational constituency, booked visits – which are not included in these figures – by young people to the National Gallery has increased by 7,000 over the last year."
A V&A spokeswoman said its number of child visitors in the financial year ending in 2010 had been particularly high, explaining the subsequent decline.