As the UK begins the slow process of recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, one of the greatest problems is 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, galleries, cultural and natural settings in helping to resolve this crisis? I believe there is. All have a long history of working closely with schools, and many are in a position to do more than offer one-day school visits. Sir Keir Starmer last week called for the government in England to use museums and other cultural spaces as classrooms so that children can return to full time education.
Is 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 – the MPSM project – has placed hundreds of school children into museums and botanical gardens full-time for a number of weeks, with the facilities becoming the children’s classroom for that period.
This project has been developed with the backing of the Cultural Institute at King’s College London and was able to carry out a fully evaluated trial in 2016, in which we ran 3 projects with museums in South Shields, Liverpool and Swansea. These partnerships led to improved educational and social development amongst children, increased visitor numbers at some sites, diversified audiences and many more benefits besides.
Since then, the project has developed significantly, with repeat and new projects taking place in England, Wales, Republic of Ireland and even Norway, and we have produced a variety of useful resources that deal with the practical issues involved in hosting classes on a long-term basis. (You can find these on the MPSM website.)
But could you host classes at this difficult time, when so much energy is being expended on crisis management and reopening? We recognise that not everyone can do everything – but many of you may have existing or adaptable spaces that would be suitable, as well as staff who have expertise in learning and engagement to support teachers. And with many attractions expecting significantly reduced visitor numbers during the first few months of reopening, this might be a good way to serve your local communities and play a part in recovering from this crisis.
We are currently working to advocate for new education funding that would support you to deliver these services, so it is possible that hosting classes could be part of your own recovery as well as for our children and communities.
As part of our advocacy effort, we are trying to understand the appetite 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 DO 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.