At Face Value: Manchester Museum, Common Cause Foundation and TeachFirst

Guest blog by Eleanor Ridley, TeachFirst Ambassador and Teacher at The Willows Primary School. 

When I originally saw that there was an opportunity via TeachFirst Summer Projects to work with the Manchester Museum, I sent my application in roughly as fast as a lightning strike. The main purpose of my time here has been to work with Secondary and Post-16 Coordinator, Cat Lumb, and Common Cause Coordinator, Shanna Lennon to investigate what type of values are communicated on the Manchester Museum’s pages about learning as part of the Museum’s work with Common Cause Foundation.

What is Common Cause Foundation?

Common Cause Foundation is an organisation which studies cultural values and explores how we can understand these in order to help us respond to current social and environmental challenges. One of the main findings is that 74% of people place more importance on compassionate values than on selfish values. However, 77% of the people interviewed believe that other people hold selfish values to be more important. Essentially, we have a gap between what we actually value, and what we believe about what people value, and it makes the world a lonelier place, where people are less likely to feel connected to their local and global community. The questions for major social institutions are: How are we going to communicate our values to help reduce this gap? And what are our values in the first place?

The Values of the Learning Team

At the beginning of the project, Cat sent me to go and find out what the values of the Learning Team were to see whether everyone was on the same page or not. The result was that yes, the Learning Team really do have shared values and a shared vision, and a shared understanding of the value of learning at Manchester Museum. The team members separately proclaimed the following  unanimous beliefs, in roughly the same order, every time.

word art

Some word art displaying the core values of the Learning Team when interviewed

1. The value of curiosity and self-directed learning and getting the chance to explore for yourself.

2. The authentic experience of being in a museum and handling real objects from the museum collections.

3. The importance of access to this cultural capital for students from all backgrounds and all abilities to the collections.

4. The museum as somewhere which can inspire aspirations, enabling students to see personal possibilities and their potential for the future.

Through every meeting and discussion that I witnessed, these values have been transparent. It is very obvious, even in two weeks, that the people working in the Learning Team care deeply and consistently about reaching out to a wide demographic (literally taking the museum to the people if the people can’t make it to the museum). It is also clear that they have a profound belief in the value of the experiences that they can offer through Manchester Museum collections, educationally and emotionally. Communicating these values will be the icing on the cake.

Education and Museums

Those working in education know the huge challenges that are to be faced in fighting educational inequality, which can be hugely daunting. As the Common Cause Foundation research shows, the feeling that benevolence is not widespread can lead to a feeling of apathy and helplessness. Organisations such as TeachFirst and Manchester Museum have tremendous power in communicating common goals and helping spread the message that students should get access to rich educational experiences, regardless of their socio-economic background, and inspiring more people to join the conversation.

This project has been an inspiring and heartening insight into the hearts and minds behind the educational programmes at Manchester Museum, and I wish the team the best of luck in continuing to promote their message.



Early Years & Childhood Studies Placement

In January we were pleased to welcome a placement from Manchester Metropolitan University to work with us over the course of three weeks. Eve got a chance to see a selection of the learning offer by observing a variety of workshops and work alongside those in the Learning Team. At the end of the placement Eve was kind enough to write a post for us, and here it is:

My name is Eve Bokor and I am an Early Years and Childhood Studies student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Working at Manchester Museum has been simply a pleasure. I have worked with the Early Years, Primary and Secondary school team on a variety of workshops that have been excellent to observe, engage and even learn myself. Any school that has experienced having a workshop at the museum is lucky. The school workshops include a large variety of topics, examples of the ones I saw were ancient Egypt, Stone Age, ancient History, Animal Explorers and Baby Explorers. These workshops aid children to explore the different topics in a create informal manner. A common theme I observed in the workshops were all children were well behaved, curious and eager to provide the knowledge they have or give suggestions to what they think. All the staff that worked with the children were friendly and enthusiastic, offering support and expert knowledge for the children. What I particularly admire is the level of involvement the children have in workshops which includes being about to handle the artefacts (which is there is quite a selection of them).


Eve’s favourite gallery was the Vivarium

I worked there for three weeks,and  in that time I have seen a fair amount of the artefacts in the Museum, but I know there is so much more to see: Endless information about the vast number of topics. Another part of the Museum that I admire is the environmentally friendly example it sets for the citizens of Manchester. Offering information about current issues that are endangering the living species and the environment we live in. There is practical advice on how an individual can help which I think is vital in the current climate. Overall this Museum is a spectacular place for all ages and abilities, because it is a well of knowledge that feeds the population of Manchester.

Work experience at Manchester Museum for Year 10-13s

Last summer's work experience students on an archaeology dig in Whitworth Park.

Last summer’s work experience students on an archaeology dig in Whitworth Park.

Looking for hands-on museum work experience? We are offering two week-long placements to students in Years 10-13 interested in gaining an insight into how Manchester Museum works.

The team at Manchester Museum has developed two work experience packages that will run Monday 7th- Friday 11th July and Monday 14th- Friday 18th July.

As a work experience student you will experience the working life of the museum through a programme of organised activities and tasks. You will meet the staff and gain practical work experience both behind the scenes and out in the gallery spaces. You will get to see first-hand how the museum’s collections are looked after and displayed as well as how we welcome and work with our visitors. One of our work experience students who took part in last summer’s placement said: ‘In this past week I feel I have learned a lot about the way a museum operates and the different types of work involved in running a museum.’ See the blog post that two of our work experience students wrote about their experiences last summer. 

For more information on how to apply for this summer’s placement see Work experience application form 

If you have any other queries about our work experience placements, please contact

The deadline for applications is Friday 21st February and we will contact all applicants by 14th March to let you know if your entry was successful. We look forward to hearing from you!

Guest Post: An Interesting Week at Manchester Museum

A guest post, written by Candice Kossowska who spent a week working on gallery resources for the primary learning team. Many thanks to Candice for all of her hard work, and keep an eye out for her resources, which will be available on the website very soon…

New Picture (24)1I am just embarking on my final year of the Primary Education Degree course, at Edge Hill University. I have spent a lot of time in primary schools, but I really wanted to experience how different learning can be, in an alternative educational setting. Manchester Museum certainly was different to my previous experiences!

The teaching team at the museum offer so many opportunities for children to engage with, by actually being able to explore and even touch real artefacts. I was able to observe many sessions, which included the Egyptian Worlds session – where children find out about the museum’s mummified Egyptian Chantress, Asru. The Dinosaur Detectives session, in which children use their knowledge of carnivores and herbivores, to solve a dinosaur murder mystery. The Dig Stories archaeology session, in which pupils use tools to excavate real archaeological finds! I was also able to experience how younger children including babies, can learn from and engage with the museum, during the fantastic Magic Carpet sessions – during which the team work so hard to captivate young minds!

While at the museum I was given my very own task – something I felt privileged to be asked to do – to plan some self-guided tour sessions using my own ideas! Of course you would think this would be an easy task, as there are so many amazing exhibits. However, because there are so many it’s hard to decide which ones to include within a session, for primary aged children.New Picture (26)

Therefore I explored all the galleries in the museum and read the background stories for many exhibits. I selected a number of exhibits and was able to create three educational gallery tours, which tie in nicely with the new National Curriculum. After much thought, I planned a number of different resources.

One resource uses the Living Cultures and Living Worlds galleries to give children the opportunity to find out about different cultural symbols, and how different cultures attach particular meanings to different animals. Another of my gallery tours will enable children in Key Stage 1 and 2 to find out about the environmental challenges that face some of our most endangered species – and even write their own lonely hearts column for an endangered animal.

New Picture (23)In the Natures Library exhibition, children will be introduced to the unusual collecting habits of the Victorians. Children will conjure up their own background story for a number of strange exhibits, including a Narwhal’s tusk, also known as the Unicorn Horn of Manchester Museum!


I enjoyed my week at the museum immensely. I have learned a great deal from exploring the different galleries and exhibits. I was able to ask lots of questions of the museum guides, and discovered interesting and sometimes almost unbelievable stories behind many exhibits!

Placement Student develops new KS4 history of medicine session

We were really lucky over the past three weeks to have two fantastic placement students  from UCL, one of whom helped us to develop a brand new Secondary workshop focusing on the history of medicine and the use of primary sources!

Here’s a post from Elizabeth Roberts about her experience at the Museum:

“I arrived in Manchester at the start of May having flown several thousand miles from Doha, Qatar to begin a placement with the Learning and Engagement team at the Manchester Museum. The three-week placement is part of my MA course in Museum and Gallery Practice with UCL Qatar. I spent my time at the museum planning a workshop for Key Stage 4 History students on ancient medicine designed to develop their understanding of primary sources. The workshop was trialled with a group of Year 7 pupils from Newall Green High School and it was fantastic to work with a local school and to get feedback from the students.

Etruscan womb

Etruscan womb, 4th/3rd centuries BC on display in Ancient Worlds

One of the objects that we looked at in the workshop was this Etruscan model of a woman’s womb from the 4th/3rd centuries BC. The Manchester Museum’s collection is vast and incredibly diverse so it’s hard to pick favourite objects but, if I had to choose, this model would undoubtedly be on my top 10 list. It shows a detailed anatomical understanding of how the womb functions but it was not produced for further scientific study, rather it was most likely given as a votive offering at a shrine. The woman who left this model may have been trying to get pregnant and was looking for divine intercession or she may have become pregnant and wanted to offer thanks to the Gods. It is interesting to explore this object with students to get them to think about the co-existence in ancient societies of spiritual beliefs with developing understanding of anatomy and physiology.

In preparation for the workshop, I met with many of the subject specialist curators responsible for the different parts of the museum’s collection. Over 90% of the Manchester Museum’s collection is in storage and it was a real privilege to go behind the scenes to access the vast store rooms that are tucked away behind the galleries. Sometimes there are objects in the most unlikely places and in order to get to the Materia Medica, part of the Botony collection, I was led up a stone spiral staircase into an attic room stuffed with jars and specimens that would not be out of place at Hogwarts. A selection of plants and herbs from the Materia Medica are now on display in Nature’s Library and were also part of the object handling session for my ancient medicine workshop.

The Materia Medica in storage and on display in Nature’s Library

The Materia Medica in storage and on display in Nature’s Library

My behind the scenes look at life in the museum also included a peek at the Conservation department. Conservators are the unsung heroes of the museum and work tirelessly to protect the collection, be it installing new exhibitions, preparing objects for handling sessions with schools or wrapping objects for loan. A major focus for conservators here in Manchester is protecting the collection from insects because of the large number of natural history objects. At the first sign of pest infestation, objects are whisked away and placed in huge freezers before too much damage occurs.

The vast collections at the museum make it one of the UK’s leading cultural institutions. But it wouldn’t be the success that it is without the dedicated and innovative museum staff. The Learning and Engagement team are particularly active, planning sessions for schools, building community partnerships, organising family events, hosting international conferences – the list could go on and on. Just one of the projects that is being planned at the moment is the Midden Project in conjunction with Matthew Moss High School. This has already been trialled and the results can be seen in one of the display cabinets in the Exploring Objects section of the Ancient Worlds gallery.”

The session that Liz developed – examining what primary sources can tell us about ancient medicine, with examples from Ancient Egypt – will be available from the Autumn Term. We will be offering some FREE sessions for schools: if you want to know more, please contact me.

Travel and Tourism PCGE Student Placement

We’ve been busy with bookings at the start of this term and fortunately we had some help in the form of Rebecca Smith, who was working with us during the week of the 14th January to 18th January. We arranged for her to experience a selection of our offers that included Visitor Services, our Post 16 Learning Programme and our Volunteer Handling tables. Image from Ancient Worlds: Exploring Objects

But, I’ll let Rebecca tell you about her time here in her own words:

I am a PGCE student training to be a secondary school teacher, teaching Leisure and Tourism. During my one year course I am required to complete a one week alternative placement setting. I chose to complete mine at Manchester Museum. I have worked in all different aspects of the tourism industry but I have very limited knowledge of visitor attractions and Museums in particular.

My reasoning behind choosing the Museum was to gain more knowledge and understanding of how the Museum operates as a tourist attraction; however I have come away after only one week with so much more!

I was welcomed as part of the team and I was given the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the museum from working with reception class on a Dinosaur Explorer session to working with the volunteers on the handling tables.

I particularly enjoyed planning and delivering the Travel and Tourism Master Class for a group of local college students. The Master Class was based on customer service. I was allowed the opportunity to walk around all the galleries and evaluate the provisions offered to different customer types. The students were then set a customer service critique task and gave presentations of their findings to myself, Cat Lumb and the Deputy Head of Visitor Services. The students really enjoyed their day and gave positive feedback. It was amazing to see the extent to which the educational team goes to ensure they give a positive experience to the school groups. All of the sessions are planned to challenge and stretch the students and allowing them the confidence to create their own response from the exhibitions. I had no idea how much work went on behind the scenes when putting together an educational visit.

I have gained a greater knowledge and appreciation for how the Museum operates and interacts with its visitors. One thing that has stood out during my time here is how all the staff members go above and beyond for their visitors. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and they do everything they can to ensure the visitors go away happy.

All of the staff members are enthusiastic and passionate about their job roles and about the Museum itself. There is a positive atmosphere within the building and that was a pleasure to be around.

I have certainly achieved what I set out too and so much more. My love for teaching has been intensified as a result from my time at the Museum.

I look forward to returning to the Museum with my new students in the future!

Rebecca was fantastic at thinking on her feet and delivered an excellent tour for our Travel and Tourism students. Many comments were made by my colleagues on how approachable and friendly she was and therefore we would welcome her back anytime!

We wish her all the best with her future, and certainly would love to have her bring her future students to the Museum.