Art galleries: Head of schools programme at the National Gallery

What does your role involve?
Firstly,  I oversee the schools programme which involves 80,000 school children visiting the National Gallery every year; in fact, it works out to be a school visit every 15 minutes throughout the day.  This programme relies on a number of people: I work with a fantastic team of four people in the office as well as a very talented team of freelance gallery teachers whose role is to lead school parties on educational gallery tours.

I run the national ‘Take One Picture’ programme that focuses on one painting from the collection in order to inspire cross-curricular work in the classroom.. This includes curating the related annual exhibition at the gallery.  Leading the national initial teacher education programme, which involves five regional partnerships including universities and galleries, is also a part of my role:  I design and speak on the primary and secondary teachers’ courses as well as in-service training for schools.  In addition, I devise smaller research projects: writing and storytelling projects are currently in the pipeline.  There is also liaison with other departments and other galleries.

What were you doing before?
I was deputy headteacher at Charles Dickens Primary School in Southwark, London before joining the gallery in June this year.  Before that, I trained as a teacher and thought I’d stay in the profession for a couple of years but got hooked and stayed for 10.

As a student, I studied history of art before working at Dulwich Picture Gallery as its education officer for two years.  I was part of a small team working on the adult, family, community and schools programme, which I loved.

What’s best about your job?
I love the variety of the job which includes teaching, training, devising and coordinating projects, and curating an exhibition of children’s work.  It is a privilege to find new and stimulating ways for children to engage with an amazing collection of paintings. 

What’s worst?
I miss being part of a school community and seeing children develop over time.

What are the big challenges?
Compared to other galleries, we are well funded, but there is always uncertainty in this area for certain projects.  Last minute hitches such as school parties arriving late or a freelance gallery lecturer calling in sick can be tricky, but we keep calm: there is always a solution.

What skills are needed for the job?
They are very similar to the skills needed for teaching: being able to juggle lots of projects and responsibilities at once, creativity and vision, the ability to teach across the age ranges including adults.  You also need large amounts of patience, energy, a sense of humour, an understanding of how children learn.  It’s useful to have an awareness of the current issues facing schools, the ability to work together with a huge range of people, an attention to detail, sensitivity, diplomacy, and the ability to think clearly, laterally and quickly!

Why should other teachers consider working in a gallery?
It’s hugely creative, interesting and enjoyable. You work in a stimulating environment with people that you can learn from. Every day is different and full of things that require lots of different skills. You are able to influence the way in which schools interact with the collection and to make ‘good things happen’.


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