Working class actors ‘are being kept out the industry’ by mounting costs of training and cuts in education funding, says Casualty actress-turned union boss

  • Maureen Beattie has become the second female president of the Equity Union
  • The former actress says working class children are not given equal opportunities
  • Shadow Culture Minister Kevin Brennan said working class children are being excluded from the creative industries 

Young Britons dreaming of a future on the stage are less likely to make it if they are from a working class family because the education system is failing them, it has been claimed.

The union Equity has demanded change for those dreaming of a life in the limelight, with president Maureen Beattie now at the helm.

After her election last month, Ms Beattie – comedian Johnny Beattie’s daughter- has slammed cuts to drama teaching in schools which are putting opportunities out of reach for aspiring thespians.

‘We have got a big problem in our business of it reverting to what it was like before I went to drama school,’ she told the Guardian.

Maureen Beattie is determined to tear down class barriers for aspiring actors because the Government is not doing enough, she said

‘In the 60s I looked at the people graduating from the great drama schools, coming out of Rada, they all spoke with cut glass accents, mummy and daddy had money to put them through it and you thought that’s great, how marvellous and how lucky are you … we are increasingly finding that it is more and more difficult for people from working class backgrounds to get into the business.

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‘The mountain they have got to climb, to put themselves through, the bursaries are less and less and the grants have just disappeared. People are being cut off in the bud before they even have a bash at it.’ 

Ms Beattie, the 18th president of the union but only the second woman to hold the position, has appeared in hit TV shows including Doctor Who and Casualty.

While she admits her family ‘had a bob or two’  the ex Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama student said she had her fees paid. Today, the situation is much worse for many.

Government level decisions such as removing arts subjects from the compulsory category of the English baccalaureate have majorly contributed to the problem, Ms Beattie said.

Maureen Beattie as Juliette Lindsey Cambell during a performance of Right Now at Bush Theatre in London

She said to The Guardian: ‘It is absolute madness; what kind of signal does that send out? It is not just about people not coming directly in to our business … there are doctors and CEOs of major businesses who say things like ‘I was a shy, retiring child, went in to a drama class, did improvisation and that brought me out of my shell. It is one of the things that has put me where I am’.’

Ms Beattie said teachers are using their own cash in some cases to better their classes.

Recent figures have backed up what Ms Beattie is saying. 

In 2016/17 only 9.8% of pupils eligible for free school meals studied music GCSE, while Just 0.5% of free school meal (FSM) pupils – took A Level music.

Maureen Beattie in Casualty in 1991. The actress said young people from working class families struggle to make it to the stage

According to the Daily Mirror 92 of the 3,933 teenagers who studied A Level music were from poorer families.

Shadow Culture Minister Kevin Brennan said: ‘These figures show that young people eligible for free school meals are drastically underrepresented in creative subjects at A Level, especially in music.

‘If we continue along this path, working class kids on free school meals could be excluded from careers in the creative industries as they might not have the qualifications needed.

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