A few of us were at a conference the other day at The Natural History Museum in London. The theme was ‘the professionalisation of the museum educator’ and it raised some interesting questions for me. To begin with I wondered why we were even debating the fact that museum educators are professionals. We are as qualified, committed and hard-working as anyone else in sector – I can’t imagine a conference of curators questioning their professionalism!
But when I thought about it a bit more, I had to concede that we may have a bit of an image problem. Museum education, or learning as many of us like to call it nowadays, is quite free & easy compared with the ‘formal’ sector. Don’t get me wrong, that’s one of the things I really like about it, but the people who fund the work we do and the people who use our services are becoming more discerning and increasingly demanding.
We heard at the conference about the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) badge that has just been launched. The scheme is designed to make school trips and other activities that take children out of the classroom safer and more effective in terms of learning. Of course I’m in favour of anything that makes it easier for teachers to bring children to museums, and if we are as good as we say we are, we should have no problem filling in the self-assessment form to demonstrate our commitment to the highest standards.
We should also welcome the OFSTED-style ‘inspectors’ who will be checking the accuracy of our appraisal, but this raises other questions: will the LOtC badge scheme take into account the spontaneity and fluidity that makes museum learning special? Who are the inspectors and what experience will they have of museums & galleries? LOtC has such a broad remit that it may be difficult for them to assess, in depth, the value of everything from nature walks to national galleries.
We all know the testing times that teachers have been through in recent years, scrutinised and micro-managed to the end of their tethers, so it’s natural to worry when we hear about plans for national assessments and inspections. But maybe the LOtC badge is the spur the sector needs to develop our workforce as a more coherent and consistent body with shared values and principles. Perhaps we need to professionalise ourselves before someone else does it for us!