In April, Phil Ainsley of the East Anglian Railway Museum attended this MA/GEM run seminar day looking at museums and schools. Phil was able to attend due to a grant from Essex Cultural Development. Here are his thoughts on the day:
I was immersed into a lecture theatre filled with representatives from all over England, including some heavy weights such as British Museum and Library – yet we all, big and small, have similar challenges to face. Maintaining school visits being one of them.
Museums have traditionally found a relatively easy connection between education and their ability to offer schools visits. Times have changed significantly recently, with schools adhering to the scriptures of a revised chronological curriculum. Museums need to maintain or increase educational visit numbers for income.
A disruptive disconnect had taken place through the process of change. Schools staff are pressed by their auditor (Ofsted) to satisfy up-rated professional standards. Museum’s are being disadvantaged by the need to satisfy demonstrable learning outcomes.
Schools and academies are increasingly run by more independently, it was widely reported no cosy relationship exists – anywhere! New alliances will be built up on individual relationships, as they are re-established then these connections should be cherished.
Most educational advance is delivered without outside visits – it takes a leap of faith stepping outside and offering children a visit. Heritage learning has a big strength, as it links the visitor away from C21 life into unfamiliar territory, forcing a learning or enquiring mind set . As there may be a lesser number of electronic distractions this is a plus! Museums are a place where the young may interact with “inspiring adults” who can enthuse, stimulate thought, and demonstrate. Through unusual objects, show children a contrast to the familiar and everyday
Schools visits are almost exclusively undertaken a primary age children, while many might like to enthuse an older age range, is was universally accepted that is a tough nut to crack. So don’t fret and deliver what you are not comfortable with. Schools offerings should be delivered with consistency, so it was recommended that your collection must be the prime focus – your curatorial task is to find the link between collection objects and educational goals (noted below).
A museum visit should have some outcomes, it may be it re-enforces what’s been introduced at school, or an opportunity to see new objects or see new activity that can’t be seen in a school building. You may want to pose a question at the beginning of a visit to be answered towards the end.
Visits therefore are more of a lifestyle choice of the schools teaching staff promoter (normally a subject co-ordinator) and the head to sanction the visit.
Best practice is to find historical themes that are not set in any one time period, as the recent changes teach history chronologically. Therefore sweet spots to concentrate on include:
- In living memory
- Local History
- A significant turning point in history
Some school measures may include attention to
- Spiritual, Moral, Social and British values
Which if demonstrated by your collection, will give the necessary specific curriculum value required back at school.
Post visit evaluation therefore is of value to ensure learning took place. Certainly a feedback form – what may be developed together make a stronger connection – even better a dialogue should take place – “How was it for you?”
An alternative approach is a form of outreach through use of loan boxes these can be promoted by web sites, or a link out to “Flickr” ( or any alternative photo-sharing website).
As children are our target audience, then their questions, thoughts and feedback is most important. Adult museum and teaching staff need to concentrate on their observations experiences and questions arising from the day’s visit.
Homework on schools.
Schools with the highest pupil premium may be good candidates for alternative methods of teaching away from the school building. You could read the OFSTED report on schools to identify good points and potential weakness. It can be the weakness you try and address – in this find a path to improve their score.
Normally there would be a named teacher leading in a specific subject area. School newsletters may report on previous visits – in all cases the first person to speak with is probably the school secretary – so never forget them!
Teachers time is a very finite resource, it is suggested any contact is in the “twilight hours” (immediately after lessons 3.00-4.30)
For details of forthcoming Museums Association events, visit their website. The GEM annual conference is in September and details can be found here.
If there is a training day or event that your museum could benefit from attending, but requires financial assistance contact your MDO to discuss potential funding sources.