My Primary School is at the Museum

Wendy James, 22.06.2020
Can this model help museums and schools to recover from Covid-19?
As the UK begins the slow process of recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, one of the greatest problems has been managing the return of children to school in a period of continued social distancing. It’s a vital issue – for children’s educational attainment, for social development, for parents returning to work and for the economy as a whole.

Is there a role for museums in helping to resolve this crisis? I believe there is. Museums have a long history of working closely with schools, and many are in a position to do more than offer one-day school visits. And I’m not alone in believing that museums can be part of the solution. Labour party leader Keir Starmer recently called for the government in England to use museums and other cultural spaces as classrooms so that children can return to education.

Is it this really possible? We already know that in normal times, this kind of model really does work. The project that I’ve been working on for the past five years –My Primary School is at the Museum – has placed hundreds of schoolchildren into museums full-time for a number of weeks, with the museum spaces becoming the children’s classroom for that period.

This project, developed with the backing of the Cultural Institute at King’s College London, included a fully evaluated trial in 2016 in which we ran three projects with museums in South Shields, Liverpool and Swansea. These partnerships led to improved educational and social development among children, increased visitor numbers at some sites, diversified audiences and many other benefits.

Since then, the project has developed significantly, with repeat and new projects taking place in England, Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Norway. We have produced a variety of useful resources that deal with the practical issues involved in hosting classes on a long-term basis, which you can find on the My Primary School is at the Museum website.

But can museums host classes at this difficult time, when so much energy is being expended on crisis management and reopening? We recognise the diversity of the museum sector – not everyone can do everything – but many museums have existing or adaptable spaces that would be suitable for hosting classes, as well as staff who have expertise in learning and engagement to support teachers. And with many venues expecting significantly reduced visitor numbers during the first few months of reopening, this might be a good way for museums to serve their local communities and play a part in recovering from this crisis.

We are working with partners at the Museums Association and across the cultural sector to advocate for new education funding that would support museums to deliver these services. It is possible that holding classes in museums could be part of the recovery for our own sector as well as for our communities. You can see our full proposal for a scheme here.

As part of our advocacy effort, we are trying to understand the appetite among museums for hosting a school class or classes on a medium to long-term basis. Are you interested? Would you like to find out more? If so please take this quick survey to tell us what kind of resources you have, and please spread the word about the My Primary School is at the Museum project.

Wendy James developed the Primary School is at the Museum concept