The education agenda

Education has always been at the heart of museums, with many established specifically to provide educational opportunities for the public and to be centres for research and scholarship...
But in recent years, museums have begun to re-examine what education means for them and there has been a growing emphasis on the importance of all kinds of learning within museums.

This has partly been in response to government policy but has also grown out of recognition in the sector that the unique educational potential of museums was not being realised.

An influential report, first published in 1997 and revised in 1999 helped to set the agenda. 'A Common Wealth' by David Anderson, Director of Learning at the Victoria & Albert Museum made the case that museums could offer much better services to learners of all kinds, from family groups to pupils and students pursuing courses at all levels. Anderson argued that education needed more resources and needed a higher profile within museums.

Since its publication, many of the ideas in the Anderson report have become mainstream. Several initiatives have helped to raise the profile of education still further. Education has been a key theme in the implementation of Renaissance.

DfES and DCMS have jointly invested in programmes that strengthen the capacity of museums and galleries to support children and young people's education. Funders such as the Heritage Lottery Fund have encouraged applicants to include specific learning elements within their projects. DfES is developing a manifesto for Education Outside the Classroom, which highlights the contribution that museums and others can make to children's learning.

Inspiring Learning for All was launched by MLA in 2004 as a new vision for museums learning. It is accompanied by a toolkit which is designed to help museums develop their own learning good practice and is being used consistently across the UK.

Click here to see the Inspiring Learning for All website

Within museums, education services have improved. Capital investment through the National Lottery has created new dedicated education facilities. There are more education staff within museums, although too many of these are still employed on short-term contracts related to specific projects.

Following the publication of the Anderson report, the MA played a key role in setting up and running the Campaign for Learning through Museums and Galleries (CLMG) along with consortium partners.

CLMG now operates as a kind of think tank, developing ideas for the future of learning in museums.

The MA view

The emphasis on learning in museums has been a very welcome development and has improved the experience of visiting museums for many people.

However, recent government initiatives have tended to focus on formal learning, particularly linked to the school curriculum. Although museums are well placed to support the school curriculum, they can do much more than that and the MA does not want to see museums' educational activities artificially limited to the school curriculum.

Museum decision-makers have moved on from regarding education as peripheral. But research for the MA's Collections for the Future report indicated that there is still not enough understanding of the opportunities museums have to help people be inspired and enthused about what they encounter.

And in too many museums, learning is still marginalised and seen as the province of the education department. The sector needs to encourage more imagination and courage in working with audiences and communicating collections.

Links

A Common Wealth: go to www.culture.gov.uk, click on Publications, choose Archive 1999 and Museums and Galleries

Group for Education in Museums: www.gem.org.uk

DCMS: Museums education

DfES: TeacherNet, Museums and Galleries