Submission to the inquiry of the Education and Skills Committee into Education outside the Classroom, October 2004


Museums offer some of the most significant opportunities available to schools to extend students' learning outside the classroom. They can bring the curriculum to life. Roman history suddenly seems much more real when you can handle the pots and coins a citizen of the Roman Empire might have used.

Every child learning about dinosaurs should have the opportunity to come face to face with the fossilised remains of one. A student may think that they are no good at art until they have the chance to work with a practising artist in a museum. As well as their obvious contributions to art, history and science, museums make contributions across the whole range of the curriculum.

Like other out-of-classroom learning opportunities museums can engage students who are turned off by formal learning, with the chance to learn by imagining or doing. They give students the opportunity to experience a completely different environment, swapping a classroom for the kitchens of a Tudor house or a coalmine, 300 feet underground.

Recent investment has strengthened the quality and range of educational provision in museums. However, there are still barriers which prevent many schools making as much use of museums as they might. The cost of transport means that many schools in more remote or rural areas miss out on the full richness of the experience that museums have to offer.

And additional resources have largely been concentrated in a small number of museums, meaning that the education potential of others is seriously under-developed. This response contains some proposals for targeted investment, which would greatly increase the opportunities available in museums for education outside the classroom.

1.0 Background

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5000 individual members and 600 institutional members. These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums. The MA is a charity, receiving no government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

1.2 This inquiry is concerned both with out-of-classroom learning in general, and with outdoor education in particular. Many museums offer opportunities for outdoor learning. Some farming museums, historic house museums, industrial museums and social history museums preserve whole landscapes and townscapes, and give children the opportunity to enjoy the particular challenges of learning in the open air. However, in this response, the MA has looked at out of classroom learning in a broader sense, in order to encompass the whole range of experiences, which museums have to offer.

1.3 Museums increasingly offer a range of outreach activities to schools and do not only interact with schools on the museum site. They support a range of out of classroom learning activities. Natural history specialists might organise fieldwork, which drew on the museum's collections. Museum archaeologists can assist with the interpretation of archaeological sites, and social historians can help children to see their own environment in a new light.

2.0 Introduction

2.1 In 2003, the MA launched a proposal that the government should fund a free museum visit for every school child every year. We can supply the committee with copies of the leaflet which outlines the proposal. In brief, the scheme looks at ways in which the most significant barriers to greater use of museums by schools can be overcome.

2.2 Estimates suggest that around 50% of school children already visit a museum on a school visit every year. This is encouraging, but there are clearly missed opportunities. Participation is much higher among primary schools than secondary schools, suggesting that museums' potential to provide more sophisticated and challenging learning experiences for older students is under-exploited. Transport costs are a significant barrier, meaning that children's experience of museum visiting is often circumscribed by their immediate geographical area.

Many schools find it difficult to cover teachers' absences so that they can prepare for, as well as lead, school visits. And while teachers and students value sessions which are led by specialist museum educators, many museums are unable to provide such direct teaching for school groups.

2.3 The MA proposes a scheme whereby the government would provide funding to schools to use for visits to museums. Such a scheme could of course be extended to include other out-of-school learning opportunities, such as the historic environment and the countryside. Our research suggests that an average of £10 per child each year would enable every child to enjoy a high quality taught session at a museum, or other site.

The largest element of this would cover the school's costs, paying for the cost of transport and supply cover for teachers preparing and leading the visit; the remainder would pay for the delivery of a high-quality session taught by a specialist educator at the museum. A comprehensive web-based directory (which could build on existing online resources) would make it easy for teachers to find out what sessions were available at museums.

2.4 This is an average cost. Some urban schools, which could take advantage of free local transport would require much less funding, while rural schools and those in remote areas might require more. While a universal roll out of the scheme would be expensive (estimated at £64m per annum for England, based on 6.4 million 4-16 year olds in schools), it could feasibly be targeted in the first instance at those areas where take-up of out of school learning is poor, either because of a lack of regional facilities, or because of poverty and social exclusion.

2.5 It is important to acknowledge that improving museums' service to schools has been a major focus of the government's investment in regional museums through the Renaissance in the Regions programme. Since this funding is still at an early stage, it is too soon to assess its impact. However, although welcome, the funding is limited to a relatively small number of regional museums. There are many more museums with the potential to provide an excellent service to schools, but which do not meet the other criteria for funding through Renaissance in the Regions.

2.6 Since 1999, the Department for Education and Stills has provided funding for education work in museums and galleries, through the Museums and Galleries Education Programme, phases 1 and 2. This investment has funded innovative projects, with a high rate of satisfaction from both teachers and students.

However, a limitation of this funding was that it was project-based. Museums were only able to employ additional staff on a temporary or casual basis, which meant that skills and expertise were lost when the projects ended. They were not able to develop such strong relationships with schools as a longer-term programme of investment would offer.

2.7 One compelling argument for increasing schools' use of museums and other out of class room learning venues is that people who visit regularly as children are much more likely to return as adults. Broader school use helps to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from national cultural and natural resources throughout their lives. Museums are also increasingly developing after-school activities; school visits can help to encourage children to take up these after-school opportunities.

3.0 Barriers to the development of out of classroom learning

3.1 The inquiry's terms of reference specify a number of possible barriers to the expansion and development of out of classroom learning. This section of our response reflects on some of these in the context of museums.

3.2 Costs and funding. Cost is often perceived to be a non-issue as far as museum visits are concerned: since 2001, additional government funding has enabled all national museums to offer free entry; most local authority museums are also free. However, independent museums, which rely mainly on self-generated income, still have to charge for admission. Independent museums make up over a third of all Registered museums, and often offer the only museum provision in more remote or rural areas.

3.4 Furthermore, many museums make a special charge for a taught session for school groups; those that do not have to subsidise the service out of other income, and are always oversubscribed. A funding stream which allowed schools to pay for high-quality taught sessions at museums would enable museums to expand their capacity as well as ensuring that schools continued to visit independent museums: many independent museums report that their school visits are falling as schools chose instead to visit free museums in their area. If this trend were to continue it would mean that students missed out on the chance to visit some of the important surviving examples of our industrial and cultural heritage.

3.5 As with other forms of out of classroom learning, the cost of transport to museums can be prohibitive, especially for schools not able to make use of public transport. Funding which covered transport costs would allow greater equality of access, so that children growing up in rural areas can have the same opportunities to enjoy their heritage as those in urban centres.

3.6 External assessment of provision. The current Registration scheme for museums is run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). It is about to be relaunched as Accreditation; and it provides quality control over museums and the services they offer. MLA has also developed a highly-regarded framework, Inspiring Learning for All, which helps museums to improve their approach to learning provision. Nevertheless, museums remain outside a mainstream educational assessment programme. We believe that museums would welcome tougher assessment of their educational provision, if such a scheme was backed up with additional support and helped to bring them closer to the educational mainstream.

3.7 Integration with existing school structures and the motivation of teachers. We believe that there is great potential for museums to work more closely with schools and in particular to explore ways of providing training and development opportunities both for schools and museum educators. One possible model might be a programme of secondments whereby teachers could spend some time working in a museum, and museum educators (who are mostly qualified teachers) could spend some time working in schools. The Museums Association has experience of running a successful secondment scheme, the Sharing Museum Skills Millennium Awards and we believe that a relatively small amount of funding could unlock substantial benefits through such a secondment scheme.

3.8 We believe that there is scope for increasing the emphasis on out of classroom learning in initial teaching training. This would help to build teachers' confidence in leading visits to museums and other venues, and increase their understanding of the potential of out of classroom learning opportunities.

3.9 Museums could also help with mid-career training for teachers, including helping them revitalise their approach to their subject specialisms. The chance to work alongside experts in their specialist fields, and to work with internationally significant collections could be very motivating for teachers.

3.10 How provision in the UK compares with other countries. We understand that the Ministry of Culture in the Netherlands has operated a culture voucher scheme for school children to enable them to access cultural opportunities such as theatre and museum visits. The scheme provided a voucher, which could be redeemed at a range of venues, either by groups or individual children.

For further information, please contact:

Helen Wilkinson
Policy Officer
Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
E1 6NW

tel: 020 7426 6950