Are museums and galleries losing their appeal to schools?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

inside the Natural History Museum before the recent changes

From April 2015 until March 2016, 47.7 million people visited one of the fifteen museums in England that are sponsored by the Department of Culture etc. All are free to enter yet numbers are dropping. Why?

If you don’t even pay to enter why should we, who as “owners” of our artworks and heritage that are bought in our name with our tax monies, not visit?

Apart from encouraging school parties to visit our national and local museums as part of their education, museums are traditionally the places for a large slice of the population to go to on wet afternoons particularly in school holiday time.

Yet it seems we are not encouraging school parties. According to the latest ministry report, Sponsored Museums Performance Indicators 2015/16, there was a decline is school parties visiting the fifteen museums. Over 150,000 fewer children than the previous year. And of those that did visit, the museums that comprise the Science Museums Group and the Natural History Museums were the main recipients of the visitors. The Imperial War Museums had the greatest drop in numbers but this is probably due to the emphasis put on the beginning of the centenary remembrance of WWI. Even the Natural History Museums had a drop.

You could argue that a drop of 150,000 is small compared to the millions that go. But in the previous year there was a drop as well. Compared to 2009/10 – admittedly a bumper year – there has been a substantial drop. Compared to 2008/9 there has been a drop of 700,000 schoolchildren not visiting these fifteen museums despite a growth in the numbers of school children over the same period by about half a million. Add in the growth of student numbers in private schools and you would have thought that  educational visiting numbers to museums should have risen.

Why aren’t schools taking pupils to museums in the numbers they once were?

Is it organisational problems, issues connected to liability for their students, health and safety constraints or just a lack of interest by teachers? Or is it that museums not encouraging educational visits? Go to the Louvre in Paris or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and you would find it difficult not to trip over school parties.

If we are not saving our artistic and natural heritage for future generations you could argue, why bother to keep it? Sell it off and use the money for something else.

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