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Leicester Special Collections

Museum Schools Service

For museums to have a school service is not a recent idea. Dating from the early 20th century, these services have grown and developed throughout the decade to become a staple and important part of a museum’s set up. Even as early as 1905-7, school visits to museums were growing as students studied the exhibits and collections. 

Sixteenth Report to the Town Council, 1905


Below are the date of when different museum schools services were set up.






National Museum of Wales

c. 1952

The National Motor Museum

How and why were they set up?

The National Museum of Wales

The National Museum of Wales’ School Service department was set up thanks to the Education act of 1944. Education had always been offered at the museum, but this service would allow the institution to reach outside of its four walls and make themselves and the collection more accessible to those who could not get to the museum easily. In the space of eight years, five ‘Schools Service Officers’ were appointed, highlighting a dramatic expansion of the service. The demand was so much that it was limited, as the Museum Schools Service booklet shows, to just secondary schools in the early 1950s. 

Museum Service, 1949

Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Likewise, Derbyshire school museum was established in 1936. Unlike Cardiff being established by an act, Derbyshire’s service was established by a grant from the Carnegie Trust. But the 1944 Education act did have an impact upon this service too. It meant that the service had to be extended to all schools in the country. This naturally meant a 100% increase in demand for the service and, like Cardiff, Derbyshire’s service went through ‘rapid increase’ and permanent headquarters were established for the collections and staff.

Leicester Museums (New Walk)

In the 19th report of the museum, written in 1910, we can see that a link between schools and Leicester museums was already there with more people wanting more in depth use of museums for school purposes. The lectures offered were for teachers to show how they could use the museum in lessons and visits. They wanted the museum to be ‘a place of instruction and delight’. The School Service in Leicester actually originated in 1924 with the appointment of a guest lecturer. This jobs involved giving talks about the collections and was particularly popular with schools. Once formally established, it was tasked with not only explaining the museum inside its own walls, but taking it out to the people and schools of Leicestershire. These services were a real opportunity to expand a museum’s impact and to allow those who may struggle to visit, the opportunity to engage with collections. 

Therefore, it seems that these services were established by chance. Whether this was the chance of a grant, the hiring of a person or simply from an act of parliament. Each case has its own unique twist on their origin story with some similarities between them. But what is common to all is that this service was extremely popular and within a short time frame, these services were expanding rapidly to not only meet demand, but to produce excellent educational service. 

What are they and what are their aims?

Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Derby Museums explains nicely what a Museum Schools Service is. They want ‘to provide schools and other bodies of students with teaching material of cultural and general interest. Such a service is particularly important in areas where good museums are few and visits to these and similar places of interest are limited’. They want to ‘provide visible, tangible and aural material of a cultural nature to educational groups, this material to be of a kind which would not normally be found in schools and other educational institutions’.

Museum Service, 1949

Beyond Our First Decade, 1982

The National Motor Museum, Beaulieu

The National Motor Museum in Beaulieu’s service has both a direct (services within the museum) and an indirect (external services) option. Yet while Derbyshire’s service is focused on projecting the museum outwards, Beaulieu’s is focused on helping to make the school’s visit to the museum the best they can be. This is anything from pre-visit publications, to resources books and guided tours of the museum itself. In 1982, these services must have still been popular as Beaulieu was looking to expand upon their facilities. This not only includes a new building but also new technologies (computers) and support for unemployed adults where workshops and lectures would help those poorest gain skills and get back into work.  Beaulieu shows how from the early days of affordable computers, museums were considering them to be excellent and beneficial for delivering educational workshops.

The Museum Schools Service, 1950

The National Museum of Wales

The National Museum of Wales puts the objects at the heart of what they do. They aim to ‘teach through things’ and ultimately ‘make boys and girls more curious about, and ultimately more at home in, the world they inhabit’. Cardiff is similar with Derbyshire’s service in the sense that they both see the object of their service as offering a tangibility to the past through objects but also that they want to be more than just another school. They want to offer ‘something other than assistance to what schools are already doing; as, indeed, offering something new’. Thus these services were seen as places which not only made full use of the collection both inside and outside of the museum, but also gave children the chance to expand upon traditional learning and connect with subjects through the ‘real thing’. It is a unique experience only a museum could offer. Even modern academia today warns against museums being ‘just another classroom’. [1]

What do they provide?

Leicester Museum and the Schools, n.d.

Loan collections are a popular set up for these School Services to be a part of. The booklet from the Leicester Museum Schools Service shows the types of displays and boxes that a school could loan from the museum. This ranged from art, to geography to archaeology. Every school received a catalogue through which they could order the specimens that they wanted. Leicester’s service also offered talks, excursions to the other museums and Saturday morning clubs for children to come and do crafts based on the collections within the museum.

Likewise, The National Museum of Wales also delivered ‘prepared exhibits’, models and handling objects to schools across Wales. Their popularity saw 3,000 exhibits each term being lent out to secondary schools. Again, Cardiff’s service emphasises that it is to help those who cannot get to museums easily.

Currently, these loan collections are not offered within Leicester Museum. Imogen Cox explains why they are currently not offered and difficulties surrounding offering a loan collection and attracting schools to the museum.

Imogen Cox Oral History Interview - Loan Collection

Report of the Committee of Belfast Museums and Art Gallery

Report of the Committee of Belfast Museums and Art Gallery, 1935

The image in this 1935 report for museums in Belfast shows some kind of seminar/ workshop going on. How does this compare with the example of a workshop talked about by Imogen Cox? She discusses an ancient Egyptian workshop at New Walk Museum Leicester. 

Imogen Cox Oral History Interview - Workshop Example

Report of the Committee of Belfast Museums and Art Gallery, 1949

School services have been a popular, main stay of a museum’s education service for over one hundred years. But while we do see that they were hugely popular, a committee report from Belfast does remind us that these services were evolving to try and best suit the needs of pupils and teachers.

But how can you see educational services evolving in the future? Would these futuristic services still have the same aims at heart?

[1] John Reeve and Vicky Woollard, ‘Learning, Education, and Public Programs in Museums and Galleries’, in Conal McCarthy,  The International Handbooks of Museum Studies: Museum Practice (1st ed), (John Wiley &Sons, Ltd., 2015), p. 555.