Museum sector bodies have responded to a recent Observer article that reported no correlation between museum visits and improved exam results.
The newspaper report was based on a study published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education, which found that there is “no evidence that the substantial parental social class inequalities that are observed in school GCSE outcomes can be explained by inequalities in cultural capital” and that “engagement in highbrow cultural activities [is] not influential”.
A letter signed by the Museums Association, the National Museum Directors’ Council, Art Fund and the Association of Independent Museums has criticised the Observer’s framing of the study.
The letter states: “The headline of your article gave the impression that museums are failing to make any difference to the lives of pupils (‘Why a day out at the museum won’t result in better exam grades’, News). Nothing could be further from the truth – museums across the UK worked hard throughout the pandemic to ensure that children had access to engaging experiences of culture, art, science and history.
“These experiences are not designed to help children pass specific exams, but to contribute to their wider development and understanding of the world.
“As your article recognises, there are numerous other recent studies that demonstrate the broader development and wellbeing benefits that museum visits can bring. Museums are brilliant places for discovering who we are, where we have come from and what we might become. There is no exam for that.”
The Group for Education in Museums (GEM) has also responded to the article, stating: “We are keen to emphasise that while this study draws some important conclusions about social inequality, it presents a somewhat misleading picture of the role of museums and heritage sites in addressing this issue.
“The role of museums and heritage sites in reducing social inequality extends far beyond exam results. Studies commissioned by the DCMS, Heritage Alliance, arts council and other sector organisations have particularly highlighted benefits for children’s social development, memory function in older age, and wellbeing improvements in adults. Art Fund’s Wellbeing report reveals that people who visit museums and galleries report a greater sense of satisfaction with their lives than those who have never visited.
“Museums are for everyone, and regular engagement can have lifelong impacts on health and wellbeing, however GCSE exam results capture a snapshot of a pupil’s educational experience and do not necessarily predict life outcomes.”
The statement continued: “While we understand that this article primarily refers to non-school museum visits, GEM would encourage greater collaboration between schools and museums, both for enrichment of the curriculum, and the general wellbeing benefits gained by pupils.”
An analysis of museums and education will appear in the next issue of Museums Journal