Museum funding should be central
The commission, the national advisory body for Britain's 2,500 museums, said that since the introduction of local management in 1993, school visits had declined in many areas.
In Manchester, for example, museums found that schools passed on charges to parents, despite having been given the delegated money for museum education. The number of visits from poorer areas dropped, adding to the problems of social exclusion the children already faced.
All local authorities should provide museum lifelong learning services with a core budget supplemented by grants, sponsorship and charges, said the commission. The scope of the Department for Education and Employment's proposed central fund should be extended to include museums' education work.
Museum education services are not simply "add-on" experiences, but play a crucial role in supporting the national curriculum, developing literacy and in motivating pupils, said Timothy Mason, the commission's director.
The commission was disappointed that museums were hardly mentioned in the DFEE's paper on lifelong learning, The Learning Age. Museums attract more than 80 million visits a year by people of all backgrounds and ages.
Museums provide a more inviting, accessible, stimulating venue for learning than many formal education institutions, and offer a variety of learning styles, said the commission.
They are now harnessing new information technologies and will make a unique contribution to the National Grid for Learning.