Which way to the gallery?;Career development

5th February 1999 at 00:00
It's easy to be seduced by the world of museums and exhibition halls, but difficult to find your way in as an education officer, warns Charlotte Wolff

Ask an education officer at a museum or gallery if the job is enjoyable, and you are more than likely to get an enthusiastic response. Jem Fraser, museum education officer with Glasgow City Council, describes her post as "the best job in the world".

Like many who work in this field, she is a former teacher who found a way in through luck and enthusiasm - aided by the right qualifications and experience.

During her working day Jem Fraser is in touch with teachers, school groups, staff from Glasgow's 10 museums and galleries, and the media - mainly providing advice on how to enhance the educational message of exhibitions. This she does by, for example, looking at ways of making an exhibition interactive or changing the language of publications to make them more accessible to particular groups.

"An education officer is a people specialist," she says. "The curator has the expertise and knowledge of objects; the designer understands three-dimensional communication; the education officer understands people and how they learn."

Her department also uses the services of 20 freelance education officers for in-service training and workshops, as well as to work on publications such as work packs and activity sheets.

At London's Science Museum, former science teacher Martin Bazley has been employed as an assistant education manager for the past three years. As part of a team of 20 education officers in a national institution, he has to do more specialised work than his counterparts outside London.

"It is a fantastic job," he says. "The museum has a stimulating atmosphere. And the work is leading edge."

Martin Bazley originally worked on publications, but is now mainly involved with Internet projects, including the Student's and Teacher's Educational Material project. This offers students and teachers the chance to contribute through the Net to a database of museum-related educational resources.

The National Gallery's education department has eight full-time education officers, some of whom are former teachers. Their work includes co-ordinating the 30 school parties that visit the gallery each day, and setting up specialist exhibitions that relate to the national curriculum. The latest, "Reading Pictures", explores the theme of reading through paintings, and aims to help teachers enhance the literacy hour.

The gallery's education department also co-ordinates courses for teachers, workshops for children, and lectures and guided tours for adults. Much of the teaching is done by a team of 40 freelance lecturers. Some of these come in on a daily basis, others less frequently.

For teachers wanting to move away from mainstream teaching, museum and gallery education can seem an attractive option, providing opportunities to use skills already learned in the classroom. However, these jobs are highly sought-after and the pay is rarely better than that of teachers, sometimes worse. Some people are prepared to work voluntarily in galleries, hoping eventually to get a full-time paid position.

There are qualifications that can help (Leicester University's department of museum studies offers a variety of courses), but no guarantees. Martin Bazley's MA in science education helped him secure his position, as did Jem Fraser's museums diploma.

With some positions, the ability to manage large groups of young people and communicate well will stand you in good stead, as will a genuine enthusiasm for museums or galleries and a thorough knowledge of the collection.

Teachers can apply directly to institutions, or look for vacancies in the 'Museums Journal' or 'TES' Appointments. For more information on freelance opportunities, go to the Web site of the Group for Education in Museums: www.gem.org.uk

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