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'Startling' lack in strategy of museums

Education should be central to every museum's central strategy and policy, says a Government-sponsored report on museum education by David Anderson from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Commissioned by Peter Brook, then National Heritage Secretary, in September 1994, it is the first comprehensive report on the educational role of museums.

Education should be accepted by all staff as a core function of their establishment, it says. But Mr Anderson's research shows that this is rarely the case.

He found it "startling" that only a third of museums responding to a survey (210 out of 566) made some limited provision for education and just half offered any educational services at all. Only 23 per cent had an education policy, which could put some in breach of their charitable trust status, he warns.

Mr Anderson's survey also found that only a third of museums had an educational imput at the planing stage of exhibitions or public events; 36 per cent had any kind of teaching room; under 10 per cent had a practical art or photography studio or children's gallery. Barely half carried out any evaluation of their galleries, teaching programmes, publications or other educational activities.

The survey identified 755 specialised education posts in 375 museums last March, double the estimate in the early 1980s.

The most common services offered were information for schools, programmes for five to 12-year-olds, and lectures and publications for adults. Only 15 per cent had a policy for disabled people, and just 7 per cent had a multicultural policy.

Senior staff ranked education below collection management, exhibition and display. Managers placed limited value on staff development, with a quarter providing training programmes and 13 per cent including an educational element. A majority had no one responsible specifically for education.

The report notes an unco-ordinated response between the seven Area Museum Councils in England to education, and a patchwork of provision characterised by the lack of any underlying rationale.

"For no apparent reason, two museums with similar types of collections and potential audiences may offer significantly different education services-or none at all. Too often, these decisions depend upon arbitrary factors, such as the nature of the museum's governing body, or even the personal preferences of individual staff."

The low level of education provided by museums revealed in the surveys for the report "should be a matter of deep concern for governing bodies and policy makers. The need to bring educational provision up to a consistent professional standard in all UK museums presents the sector with a critical challenge which should be addressed as a matter of urgency." says the report.

The report recommends: * the Office for Standards in Education should enhance inspectors' training to enable them to report on use of museums by schools and teacher-training institutions; * the Government should review and extend the role of Area Museums Councils in developing museum education and make it a statutory requirement for local authorities to provide sufficient funds for museums; * museum governors should make long-term commitment of core funds for education; * lottery money should support public learning in museums; * the Museums and Galleries Commission should set and monitor national targets for education to be achieved by 2001; * the Teacher Training Agency should conduct research on training teachers on the use of museums and these competencies should be included in the accreditation criteria on training institutions; * museums should foster links with further education colleges.

"Museums are a vast educational resource that awaits development; they are a resource we can no longer afford to neglect," says the report.

A Common Wealth: museums and learning in the UK, by David Anderson, will soon be available from the Department of National Heritage.

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