A young learner at Experience Barnsley

ACE: partnerships are key for museum learning

Simon Stephens, 04.09.2013
Report published into provision for children and young people
Creating effective partnerships will be vital for children and young people’s museum learning programmes, according to a report commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE).

The Future of Museum Learning for Children and Young People enquiry was carried out by consultant Sam Cairns and was supported by the Group for Education in Museums (GEM).

It included research into museum learning over the past 15 years, a roundtable meeting of representatives from across the museum sector, and a final Thinkpiece document intended to lead to further action and ideas.

One of the aims of the enquiry was to inform the arts council’s support for museum learning, which includes programmes such as a £3.6m scheme that funds 10 regional museums and schools partnerships.

“I think it's great that arts council officers are really committed to championing heritage learning,” said Gem chairman Nick Winterbotham.

“They are clear that it is at risk in the current economic climate and despite the attrition of our GEM membership in the last year, it is most heartening that this focus has not been lost.”

Cairns said the even though museum learning had made great strides forward over the past 15 years, helped by the support of funding programmes such as Renaissance in the Regions, the recent cuts to museum budgets were providing new challenges.

“I think we are in a positive place and, as someone working in museum learning, there is a responsibility on us in the sector not to let our recent achievements slip through our hands.”

The report highlights a number of opportunities, including the new national curriculum and the potential of digital technology.

“I am struck by the report’s emphasis on the need to make wise partnerships and the importance of a shared language across cultural sectors as key elements to secure the future of museum learning in an uncertain climate,” said Janet Stott, the head of education at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“The enquiry is a very welcome initiative by ACE, and my impression is that there are important further discussions to be held, not least focusing on excellence in our practice and the arts council quality principles.”

Some of the issues raised by the museum learning enquiry are being debated the GEM’s annual conference, which is taking place this week in Leeds.

"Given the financial pressures on museums at the moment and the subsequent need for them to review their priorities, I think it's an incredibly timely piece of work that draws on the views and experiences of an impressive number and range of museum learning specialists," said Frazer Swift, the head of learning at the Museum of London.

"I'm particularly pleased that it stresses both the unique qualities of museum learning but also the need for greater partnership working and a common language between the museum and arts sectors."