Launching a campaign for more sports and arts education in schools, Marjorie Mowlam, the party's National Heritage spokeswoman, said a 'real comprehensive education' meant all children should have the opportunity to take lessons in music, drama, art and all kinds of sport.
The national curriculum and years of budget cuts, allied to 5,000 school playing fields being sold off since 1979, had moved these subjects to the fringes and sometimes off the timetable, she said. In addition, 'the Government's treatment of teachers over the past 15 years has meant that many are now unwilling to help with after-school activities such as sport and drama'.
Ms Mowlam cited Highbury Grove School, where the former Tory education minister Sir Rhodes Boyson was once headmaster and Cliff Jones, the ex- Tottenham Hotspur footballer, sports coach. The school no longer plays cricket and can play football only for limited times on municipal pitches. By contrast, Eton had just spent pounds 12m on rowing facilities, she said.
In music and drama, cuts in the numbers of peripatetic teachers and arts advisory posts have contributed to the decline alongside the demands of the national curriculum.
Ms Mowlam was less clear about what a future Labour government might do to increase provision for arts and sport. She said that she was not considering legislation, though other party sources say that changing teacher hours to give more time to these activities was not being ruled out.
The actor and screenwriter Colin Welland, who helped launch the Labour campaign, said that sport and drama helped children emotionally and without these areas being taught we would produce a nation of 'neurotics who were both blind and deaf to beauty'.