Talk but no action on museums

Diane Spencer

Education services in the nation's museums are paid lip service, but are not given resources or status, according to preliminary findings of a major policy report due to be published next year.

David Anderson, the Victoria and Albert Museum's education officer, told a recent conference of museum educators held in Leicester that managers regarded education as a "second-order priority". And expenditure on museum education had fallen by 5 per cent in local authority establishments between 1991 to 1994.

However, 64 per cent of the 60 per cent of museums which had education staff said their governing bodies regarded core education services as essential. "But this does not always seem to be translated into action in the distribution of resources," he said.

His survey also found that nearly half of museum education staff did not have a salary equal to a curator with equivalent responsibilities and a third did not have the same conditions of service. Average expenditure on education staff, services and facilities was less than 4 per cent of total museum expenditure. "This suggests that many museum educators have low status in their institution."

Mr Anderson was commissioned by the Department of National Heritage to carry out research on museum education nationwide which will be circulated for comment early next year and published in the summer. The first questionnaire last summer asked museum directors about their education policies. The second, being sent out now, will seek greater detail of the education services offered by museums.

In addition 14 seminars have been held around the country focusing on issues such as families and children in museums, their local communities, adult informal learning, new technologies, research and higher education.

Mr Anderson said: "So far the research has shown just how much potential there is for more effective use of this extraordinary rich national cultural resource. If we just replicated examples of current good practice more widely then the UK would see a transformation in the educational use of its museums.

"The impact of new technology on museums would be profound, "turning our collections from cold (static) to hot (interactive) resources for students seeking authentic materials in an accessible, flexible form."

He hoped that his report would encourage educational trusts, sponsors and local authorities to recognise their value and increase funds to develop their education services.

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