Class act: why we need schools in museums

Katherine Bond, Issue 117/02, p14, 01.02.2017
This project highlights the enormous opportunity for the education and cultural sectors to work together
We all know museums are inspiring places, and that children can learn a great deal from visiting, but early last year King’s College London set out to test the concept that the national curriculum for primary-school children could be delivered entirely in a museum environment. The findings of that project point to the potentially huge benefits of a co-location model, not only for children but for their teachers, parents and the museums where they are taught.

My Primary School is at the Museum comes at a time when there is an increasing shortage of school places; a growing need to nurture creative, flexible and engaged children; and mounting evidence for the wide range of benefits of learning in cultural environments, particularly through collections. For museums, there is the ongoing desire to develop loyal and diverse audiences, but also the challenge of financial pressures.

To pioneer the idea, the innovation team from the Cultural Institute collaborated with Wendy James (who came up with the concept through her work as an architect with experience of creating spaces for learning in museums), academics Heather King and Jennifer Dewitt from the university’s department of society, education and communication, and Kate Measures from the Heritage Insider consultancy. Three partnerships were created and three schools were placed for extended residencies of up to a term in their local museum: the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, Tate Liverpool and Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum in South Shields.

The children proved to be surprisingly adaptable to the new environment and stimuli.

In particular, many became more confident and effective communicators, developing new social skills as a result of their extended stay in a public and adult-structured environment. They also enjoyed the learning experiences, and their immersion in museum and gallery collections led to a growing enthusiasm for the opportunities that local cultural organisations can offer.

Museums and galleries developed a deeper understanding of formal education audiences, enabling them to create more relevant and engaging programmes, and to tailor programmes for particular age groups. They were also able to extend the use of their spaces and collections.

Schools and teachers became more confident in using out-of-classroom resources and spaces for teaching. The more relaxed environment encouraged teachers to explore the use of a greater range of resources in creative ways, to deliver the curriculum. The projects also fostered deeper relationships between schools and parents, contributing to community cohesion.

The pilots were not without their challenges. There were complicated logistics scheduling a normal school timetable into a museum building environment and, in some cases, the space or equipment were not available. Communication and understanding between the schools and museums around each partner’s needs was challenging at times. After all, this was the first such test in the UK. However, more was possible than we first imagined, due to the determination and enthusiasm of the schools and museums.

There is no doubt, though, that this project highlights the enormous opportunity for the education and cultural sectors to work together to develop more adaptable and culturally confident children and young people. At King’s, we hope this knowledge will lead to even stronger partnerships between the two sectors and, in the longer term, the provision of extended museum residencies for all children – and perhaps even the creation of a museum-school. We look forward to being part of that future.

Katherine Bond is the director of the Cultural Institute at King’s College London

An event exploring the research will be held on 7 March at King’s College London.

See the full project report 


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Muna Al Ali
Head of Museum, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority
12.04.2018, 20:48
i really enjoyed reading this article, world is very small, you find someone who is thinking the same....