Museums fail to deliver

15th November 1996 at 00:00
Survey finds nearly half of institutions provide no education service. Diane Spencer reports. Less than half of the nation's museums provide a recognisable education service, a government-funded research programme has shown. David Anderson, head of education at the Victoria and Albert Museum, said that a "significant number" of the 600 museums in his survey did not justify the term "educational institution".

He thought this could jeopardise the charitable status of some establishments. "There is a gap between the rhetoric and reality in fulfilling their educational responsibilities."

The Department of National Heritage commissioned Mr Anderson to survey the state of museum education in 1993. His report is due to be published in the New Year.

Speaking at a conference at the British Museum in London last week, he said only one in four museums provided any educational training for staff, few took on board the concept of lifelong learning and less than a fifth provided services for pre-school children.

His survey showed that only 5 per cent of museums provided publications and resources for minority communities, 9 per cent catered for disabled people or those with special needs and less than a third provided direct teaching services for schools.

Five- to 12-year-olds fared the best, with half the institutions providing some kind of service. Nearly half failed to provide research facilities for students, teachers or academics; 43 per cent did not cater for teenagers; and 18 per cent published resources for students, although 46 per cent said it was desirable to do so.

On a more optimistic note, Mr Anderson said that the number of educational specialists had doubled over the past 10 years to around 850, but this was only 3 per cent of the museum workforce. The 11 per cent who deliver education are not educational specialists. "Education has gone up the political agenda in the past decade, but there is still a long way to go," he added.

Delegates at the conference, organised by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education as part of the European Year of Lifelong Learning, also discussed ways of improving partnerships between the museum service and adult education.

Buckinghamshire County Museum, which has just won the Museum of the Year award, has been forced to make its education officer redundant as the council has been forced to make stringent cuts because of local government reorganisation.

Colin Dawes, the county museum officer, said it was an enormous shame as it coincided with the award and the opening of a new gallery.

A council spokesman said the decision to make Milton Keynes a separate authority meant that Buckinghamshire would be left with 70 per cent of the population, but only 64 per cent of the money. Education would probably have to make cuts of Pounds 14.8 million next year. The council had been forced to spend Pounds 6m on reorganisation this year which could otherwise have gone towards public services.

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