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King's hosts first national museum-school forum

Posted on 08/03/2017

Professionals from across the UK’s education and cultural sectors gathered at King’s yesterday for the first national Museum-School Forum.

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Attended by over 150 museum and gallery learning and education staff, UK school teachers and education specialists, the Forum builds on King’s recent innovation programme: My primary school is at the museum. The concept was conceived by architect Wendy James who worked with the Cultural Institute at King's to deliver three extended primary school residences at the National Waterfront Museum Swansea, Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, South Shields and Tate Liverpool and proactively tested the hypothesis that there may be beneficial learning, social and cultural outcomes for children and their families if a significant portion of their nursery, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 education took place within a museum or gallery setting.

Delegates joined academics and staff for a full day of talks, workshops and panel sessions that explored the wider implications of the programme and discussed potential benefits to museums, pupils, families and the education system of basing school classes in local museums, galleries and cultural venues.

Deborah Bull, Assistant Principal (London), King’s College London opened the Forum with a speech focusing on the need for a holistic approach to education – one that appreciates that ‘art has key role to play in the delivery of education to create a more equal, diverse and tolerant society.'

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David Anderson, Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and an avid supporter of the Museum-School initiative, gave a keynote speech in which he stressed the importance of museums as formal learning resources for the UK’s education system, saying ‘We need to keep discussing what is special about learning through culture.’

Speaking at the Forum, Katherine Bond explained the reasons why the Cultural Institute at King's was hosting the day's event: 'We want to inspire people across the country to develop extended school residencies in their local museums and even consider the development of permanent museum schools. And we want to work to unpack some the critical questions relating to the provision of extended residencies in order to  develop a resource for everyone interested in taking the model forward.'

A series of panel discussions, facilitated by Dr Heather King and Dr Jen DeWitt from the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s, and Kate Measures of Heritage Insider Ltd who conducted an independent evaluation of the pilots, involved staff from each of the three museum-school partnerships talking about the impact the extended residencies have had on their education practices. The museum educators spoke candidly about their initial trepidation at hosting groups of primary school children for extended residencies but reflected that, due to the dedication and determination of their teams and the schools’ teachers and assistants, the projects proved that full-time formal learning within a cultural space was not only possible but added value to their organisations in a variety of unexpected ways.

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Teachers from two of the three local schools involved in the projects – St Thomas Community Primary School and Hadrian Primary School – shared their experience of the projects and attested to marked improvements they saw in their pupils in key areas such as confidence, oracy skills and in their social interactions. Life Bank Nursery at Kensington Children’s Centre were not able attend the forum in person, but also shared ‘wow moments’ in the nursery children who participated in the project through a project film shown at the forum.

As part of the forum, delegates also participated in a series of discussion groups to consider the practical steps their organisations could take to help develop extended school residencies in museums and cultural venues in their own regions and were asked to ‘think big’ in mapping out the feasibility of permanent museum-school co-location in the future.

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Summing up the energetic discussions from the day, Katherine Bond thanked the many staff, teachers, parents, academics, pupils and experts involved in the programme and said, ‘I very much hope that today marks the start of a museum-school movement across the UK that we can all collectively take forward. Like many of you, I would love to see extended cultural residencies become a part of every child's educational experience in the UK and see the creation of the UK's first museum school. Together I feel sure we can make this happen.'

The themes of the forum sparked interest and discussion online, causing the Forum’s hashtag, #SchoolsinMuseums, to trend on Twitter and receive support from international arts organisations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Alliance of Museums.

Those interested in finding out more about the My Primary School is at the Museum programme can do so on the King’s website

Photography by David Tett

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