Learning to Live: Museums, young people and education

The Apollo Command Module, Captain Scott’s diary and Guy Fawkes’s lantern are among more than sixty artefacts and artworks nominated by children and young people from across the country as their favourite museum or gallery exhibits.

To mark the launch of a major new book on the educational role of museums, NMDC member organisations asked 11 to 18 year olds to nominate two of their favourite exhibits. The publication, Learning to Live: Museums, Young People and Education, brings together a collection of essays addressing key questions about the role of museums in young peoples’ wellbeing and learning.

Download a PDF version of the publication here.

The book, commissioned by the National Museum Directors’ Conference in conjunction with the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr), includes contributions from leading figures from the worlds of culture and education including: Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, Baroness Estelle Morris, former Secretary of State for Education and Professor Mick Waters, President of the Curriculum Foundation and former Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. 

To ensure museums and galleries can realise their potential and make a difference in children and young peoples’ lives, the book recommends:

  • Giving children and young people equal status with adults within museums, including them in decision making and display development
  • Develop a Charter of Cultural Rights for Children
  • Make learning a core priority for museum leadership
  • Create a shared DCMS and DCSF ministerial position to provide joint leadership on cultural learning
  • Museums to help shape the curriculum through involvement with the QCA
  • The establishment of a link between schools and museums, at the local level, through Children’s Services departments
  • For museums, with the support of government, to reach out to all young people, including those hardest to reach

Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, said: “The past ten years has seen a revolution in museum education. Museums have placed learning at the core of their service to the public and have developed extensive programmes, establishing their role as vital centres of knowledge. We need to ensure that museums and galleries remain at the heart of children’s and young people’s education and continue to innovate while reaching out to everyone in their communities.”

Carey Oppenheim, ippr Co-Director, said: “If museums are to put children and young people on an equal footing with adults this will require a radical overhaul in how they allocate their funds, how they use their space and how they involve young people in their decision making.

“This is a real opportunity enable all children to benefit from the informal learning opportunities, inspiration and creative skills that museums can uniquely offer. To achieve this will require strong leadership and partnership from both the museum and educational worlds.”

Other national favourites nominated by the children and young people who took part in the survey included Cleopatra’s mummy, the Doomsday book and the Mallard steam train.  See the full list of nominated objects on the BBC website.

The organisations that participated across the UK included the British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, all the Tate Galleries, the Science Museum, British Library, the V&A and National Museums Liverpool.

Key facts on education, museums and galleries:

  • In 2008 – 2009 the national museums received well over 40 million visitors.
  • 80% of parents think that museums and galleries are among the most important resources for educating their children.
  • 85% of learning in this country takes place outside formal schooling and eight out of ten museum and gallery visits by young people happen outside school lessons (DCMS 2007).
  • More than 3.5 million children are involved in on and off site organised educational sessions in 2006 – 2007.
  • Museums are reaching increasingly diverse audiences, helping communities better understand and appreciate cultural diversity.

Notes to Editors:
On Wednesday 13 May BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme will announce the publication of the book and have a feature on their website including some of the nation’s favourite museum objects.  The programme includes a discussion with Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota and Rhian Harris, Director of the V&A Museum of Childhood, on how children's tastes are changing.  Listen to the programme here.

About ippr
ippr is the UK’s leading independent progressive think tank. Through our well-researched and clearly argued policy analysis, our strong networks in Government, academia and the corporate and voluntary sectors and our high media profile, we can play a vital role in maintaining the momentum of progressive thought.

About the NMDC
The National Museum Directors' Conference represents the leaders of the UK's national collections and major regional museums. These comprise the national museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, four leading regional museums, the British Library, National Library of Scotland, and the National Archives. Our members operate in over a 100 locations around the UK. While our members are funded by government, the NMDC is an independent, non-governmental organisation.

The NMDC was founded in 1929, in anticipation of a Royal Commission recommendation that the national collections should 'coordinate their work and discuss matters of mutual concern'. Today the NMDC provides its membership with a valuable forum for discussion and debate and an opportunity to share information and work collaboratively. The NMDC represents its members, the issues they care about and the museums sector to policy makers and opinion formers. We work to inform and shape the museums and cultural policy agendas across the UK.

The current Chair of NMDC is Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum.