More teachers are taking pupils on museum visits, but they do not know if the trips offer any tangible benefits, a new report has revealed.
It shows that, in areas of England given targeted government funding for two months, school museum visits rose by 28 per cent. But the report, produced by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, also includes a survey of more than 1,000 teachers, which reveals few are certain the visits achieve their desired goals.
Only a third of teachers believed that museum visits had helped pupils' learning across the curriculum or led to new ways of working in the classroom. Just over half (53 per cent) believed it very likely that pupils' thinking skills had improved as a result of the visit and, despite museum staffs' expectations, only 43 per cent felt communication skills had definitely improved.
But there were also more positive findings. Of 20,000 pupils questioned for the survey, 73 per cent agreed that museum visits had given them a lot to think about. Eighty-three per cent of secondary pupils felt they had acquired interesting knowledge from their visit.
Jocelyn Dodd, one of the authors of the report, believes the responses from pupils were more significant than those from teachers.
She said: "The single most important fact is that you have young people enjoying the experience. Then they're motivated to learn, and the ability to concentrate on knowledge and understanding becomes much more focused in the classroom."
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, leader of the report's research team, said teachers' lack of satisfaction with museum visits was often a result of their own narrow focus.
She said: "Teachers see museums as enhancing subject understanding, allowing them to see what they already know in a new way. But they're missing a trick. They should be using museums to improve basic skills, and to teach pupils to think creatively."
She admitted that museums had to improve services offered to schools: "It's not just about the collections. Teachers value having facilitators in a museum, who offer different skills. But these people need a high level of training. So there has to be a large injection of funding."
Many teachers believe that it is their own input that determines the success of the visit. Keith Willey, head of humanities at Westborough high, in Kirklees, said: "Visits outside school need to be well-structured and well-planned. Then they can open pupils up to new ideas and concepts."
What Did You Learn at the Museum Today? will be launched by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council at a one-day conference in London on March 2. Speakers will include Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary.www.mla.gov.uk