The drive to rid schools of “dead white men” like Shakespeare will leave children at the mercy of fads and fashions, Jenny Agutter has said.
The veteran actress urged teachers not to remove literary greats from school curricula on spurious grounds.
“Definitely don’t remove someone who is dead and white just because they are dead and white,” she told The Telegraph.
“That is pigeon holing and shouldn't be allowed. There are French writers who are dead, there are Greek writers, there are all sorts of people who are dead but one doesn’t want to put them in that category.
“My feeling is that the best writing crosses time and social backgrounds. No one should be classified as black, white, dead or alive if the writing is good.”
While it is important for children to learn about writers from different backgrounds and countries, “we must not lose our literary heritage”, Agutter said.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), criticised the national curriculum for failing to include enough black and female writers.
But 65-year-old Agutter, who is a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Foundation (SSF) charity, said: “Something that is currently fashionable may easily go out of fashion which is why you need to stick to some of the things that remain with us and part of who we are.
“You almost need to keep certain people in the curriculum to play your modern writing against. The good writers cross the cultural boundaries.
“She said that calls to stop teaching traditional texts “is like saying tear down all the buildings and start again”.
“Apart from anything else, modern writers reference history, modern artists reference history and the periods before, you can’t not reference things,” she said.
“We don’t just belong in our own time, we belong at the end of a whole string of things. When writing is really extraordinary, it belongs in the present as much as it did in the past.”
The SSF workswith children in schools around the country to rehearse Shakespaere plays, culminating in a production at a professional theatre.
Agutter begun her career as a child actress, rising to fame with her role in The Railway Children.
The actress has been a regular face on cinema and television screens for the past four decades, starring in a string of acclaimed shows including Call the Midwife and Midsomer Murders. She toured around the country with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s.