About the project

The project

My primary school is at the museum is a project which was developed by the Cultural Institute at King’s College London against a backdrop of threatened museum services, a shortage of school places, and ever growing evidence to support the range of benefits of learning in cultural environments and through collections. It tested the benefits of co-locating primary and nursery school classes for extended periods of time within a museum. The project began with an idea conceived by architect Wendy James: to one day see the creation of a permanent museum-school.

The project was supported under the Cultural Space Programme at King’s College London.

The project team

As well as Wendy James, Architect and Partner at Garbers & James Architects, the team consists of:

  • Katherine Bond (Director) and Sophie Branscombe (Innovation Manager), Cultural Institute at King’s College London
  • Dr. Jen DeWitt and Dr. Heather King, School of Education, Communication, & Society at King’s College London. They provided educational support and academic advice.
  • Kate Measures of Heritage Insider, who conducted an independent evaluation of the project.

The partnership

In order to pioneer this concept, a pilot study took place in which partnerships were established between three schools and three museums across the UK – in Swansea, Liverpool, and South Shields. The participating museums were The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, Tate Liverpool, and Arbeia Roman Fort. Classes from two primary schools and one nursery took up residence in a museum or gallery for between two weeks and one term, whilst continuing to deliver the requirements of the National Curriculum and the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework.

The benefits

The findings of the pilot study have been published in a public report which can be downloaded here. This report outlines the benefits uncovered in the study for museums, schools, and children and their families. These have included:

  • For children: increased confidence and improved social and communication skills; greater engagement with and sense of ‘ownership’ of local cultural spaces and places.
  • For museums: a deeper understanding of younger audiences, enabling the development of more relevant, engaging programmes; an extended use of their spaces and collections.
  • For schools and teachers: examples of creative ways in which to deliver the curriculum and confidence using out-of-classroom spaces.

This blog

Although the pilot study has now been completed, this blog is about bringing together practice from across the sector, and keeping momentum surrounding the project going. For more detail on how to use this blog, please see the ‘how to use this blog‘ page.

Museum Association Conference 2017

Adapted from: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/Cultural/newsandviews/newsrecords/171206-PSMMAConference.aspx

The 16th and 17th of November 2017 saw the My Primary School is at the Museum (MPSAM) team attending the Museums Association conference in Manchester. This event is the largest of its kind in Europe, bringing together museums and industry professionals. The 2017 conference centred around three key themes: audiences, collections, and workforce.

The first session from the MPSAM team took place on the Thursday, and was on the subject of ‘Out of the classroom, into the museum’. Nia Williams (National Museum Wales), Russell Dwyer (St Thomas Community Primary School) and Sage Morgan-Hubbard (American Alliance of Museums) headed a panel chaired by King’s Dr Heather King. Within the hour-long presentation, each representative discussed their personal experiences of integrating primary school learning into the museum environment. Differing perspectives were offered, dependent on each representative’s role, and audience members were able to ask questions at the end of the session.

On Friday, Kate Measures (Heritage Insider), the project evaluator, and Wendy James (Garbers & James), the concept initiator, along with Dr Heather King, conducted a follow-up session which provided valuable insight to heritage professionals on how they can make their museums primary school ready.

The project team will be heading to Oslo in February 2018 to participate in The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design’s annual conference. This conference focuses on topics relating to producing and mediating art, architecture, and design to broad audiences, from pre-schoolers to an Alzheimer project.

Nursery in Residence: What happened when a group of 3 year olds spent a week at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Botanic Garden?

Educators at both the Fitzwilliam Museum and Cambridge University Botanic Garden invited nine children from a local nursery to spend five mornings in residence at the Museum and Garden. This was inspired by the My Primary School is at the Museum project. A full article on their experiences during the week can be found by clicking here, on the Cambridge University Museums website, and an abbreviated version is available below.

Day One – At the Botanic Garden: Badgers and Bamboo

Day one of the residency began with the children setting off on an adventure into the Garden. The children investigated the bamboo forest, and then talked about a badger footprint spotted in the mud. There were also activities on fallen leaves and minibeasts.

Day Two – The Fitzwilliam Museum: Caterpillars and Creepy Crawlies

Activities on day two linked back to day one, with discussions surrounding mini beasts and images of them throughout the museum. The children used their spotter guides from the Botanic Garden to find insects and other animals in the Flower Paintings Gallery. The book ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ was used as a tool to help children think about life cycles of insects. Later, children explored a range of materials such as clay in the studio.

Day Three – At the Fitzwilliam Museum: Gruffalos and graphite sticks

Clay was built on further on day three, and children began by appreciating the ceramics collection together. One of the pieces – an owl-shaped punch bowl, was used as a jumping off point for the book The Gruffalo. The children then proceeded to work with more clay, paper and paint to explore a range of making opportunities.

Day Four – At the Botanic Garden: Lots of Leaves

The children explored the glasshouses and enjoyed the varied environments, as a continuation of the theme of exploration and discovery of the natural world. The book ‘Tidy’ was used to inspire the children in their collection of leaves and other fallen treasures. The children were then encouraged to follow their own interests in the Schools Garden, which included playing with leaves, working with clay, and mark-making with chalk.

Day Five – At the Fitzwilliam Museum: Bear Hunts and Bare Feet

The children were allowed to vote on where to spend their final day, and chose the museum. A range of French Impressionist paintings were used to help recreate Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s book ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’. The children were familiar with the book, and joined in with the words and actions. They then went on to interact with features of the museum itself, such as the staircases, revolving doors, and ceilings.

Later, the studio offered a range of sensory experiences for the children, including a pool with floating scented water lilies, and painting on bare feet to leave tracks.

The Botanic Garden and the Museum staff have been back to visit the children at nursery, and taken their artworks and some bulbs for them to plant so that there is a lasting visual reminder of the project in their own setting. The Nursey practitioners also made a book about the project, incorporating photographs, children’s artwork, information, and reflections so that the parents and other visitors can learn more.

Staff at both the Botanic Gardens and the Museum will be reviewing the data collected and investigating more about how children learn in special places such as museums and Botanic Gardens. They will be writing and blogging about their findings over the coming months, and you can keep up to date with these by following the link to the blog, at the top of this article.

Museum and School Partnerships Around The World

This article explores other partnerships which link together schools and museums, whether that be in the setting of a ‘museum magnet school’ in the US, a ‘museum specialist school’ here in the UK, or a mutually beneficial partnership in which museums and schools have forged close links as separate entities. Here, museum-school partnerships and programmes in the UK, USA, and India are profiled.

The UK

The Langley Academy is the UK’s only Museum Specialist School, and was established in 2008 by the Arbib Foundation. The Langley Academy view museums as gateways to real things, real stories and real people and utilise museum collections to make learning meaningful and memorable. They believe that museums and their collections develop students’:

  • Love for learning
  • Curiosity and creativity
  • Ideas and critical thinking
  • Self-esteem and identity
  • Communication skills
  • Understanding of context and links
  • Knowledge of the past
  • Hopes for their future

Where is it?Slough, in the South East of England.

How does it link schools and museums?The school has a Museum Learning Manager, and learning with the help of different museums and galleries is a core part of their curriculum, integrated across all subjects throughout the school. The Langley Academy have their own changing temporary exhibitions in the atrium space within the school, along with a museums club.

Who is it partnered with? –  There are a number of partner museums on the Museums Advisory Group to The Langley Academy, who offer support and guidance to the school, and aid in the strategic development of museum learning. Some of the core museums that they work with include Maidenhead Museum, and the London School of Economics (LSE) archive.

Further information http://www.langleyacademy.org/, http://www.langleyacademy.org/pages/specialismkeyfoci.html and http://www.langleyacademy.org/strongertogether/


Cheney School is a large comprehensive school which is working towards accreditation status, and is developing a museum specialism, which also extends to its feeder primary schools.

Where is it?Oxford

How does it link schools and museums?Cheney School hosts the East Oxford Community Classics Centre, which is a vibrant classics learning venue accommodating people of all ages for events, workshops, lessons, and exhibitions. This is run by The Iris Project in association with the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Classics. Pupils at the school engage with the Centre in a number of ways, including projects on Roman Mosaics and Ancient Cookery. The Classics Centre is in possession of original artefacts including Roman pottery and weaponry. The Centre also works with the Arts Council Museum Accreditation Scheme, which means that Cheney students can participate in archaeological enrichment and project activities.

Who is it partnered with?Cheney School is partnered with Oxford University Classics Centre, The Iris Project and the Arts Council Museum Accreditation Scheme.

Further information –http://eoccc.org.uk/museum and http://www.cheney.oxon.sch.uk/Museum-Accreditation-at-Cheney-School and http://www.cheney.oxon.sch.uk/Classics-at-Cheney


The Stronger Together Project was a project which ran between July 2014 and February 2015. Eleven partnership projects took place in three counties in the south of England, which linked museums with secondary schools.

Where is it?The project occurred across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, and Oxfordshire

How does it link schools and museums?The programme linked eleven secondary schools with museums. The Langley Academy participated in the programme, linking with Waddesdon Manor in an aim to provide students with a greater understanding of the functional benefits of mathematics within the food industry. Students developed numeracy skills through purchasing and menu planning, food experiments, and food service and presentation skills.

Who is it partnered with?Eleven museums partnered with eleven schools, including Waddesdon Manor and the Langley Academy, and the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum which partnered with Cheney School.

Further informationhttp://www.langleyacademy.org/strongertogether/


Kendal Museum have a commitment to an active education policy, providing visits to all self-led pre-booked classes.

Where is it?In Cumbria, in the North West of England.

How does it link schools and museums?The museum provides visits to all self-led, pre-booked classes, meaning that it can become the learning space for the delivery of a whole module or curriculum if the school desires. It costs £2 per child, which allows the class to gain access to the museum for a whole year, with free rein amongst the exhibits as long as the sessions are self-led and pre-organised.

Who is it partnered with?Any local school can use the museum. They also further children’s learning through the Young Archaeologists’ club.

Further informationhttp://www.kendalmuseum.org.uk/visit-us/schools-colleges


Eureka Children’s Museum houses a nursey school, which was established in 2003 and caters to children aged zero to five years. The learning at the nursery is closely linked with the museum. There is also holiday childcare available at the museum for those aged 5-14.

Where is it?Halifax, North England.

How does it link schools and museums?The nursery school and the museum itself have forged very close links. The nursery attendees frequently visit the museum’s under-fives galleries, which include a miniature town square complete with shops and a garage. Children also learn in the museum classroom and theatre, and take part in art and craft activities and workshops in the museum itself.

Who is it partnered with?The museum and nursery themselves are partnered, and during school holidays there is also a forest school partnership.

Further informationhttps://www.eureka.org.uk/eureka-nursery/childcare/

The US

New York City Museum School is a museum learning based school, and was the inspiration for The Langley Academy. This is a high school, for pupils aged 14-18, and utilises the rich resources of New York City’s historic, scientific, artistic, and cultural institutions. The school was established in 1993 in collaboration between a group of museum administrators, and one of New York City’s most progressive superintendents. It has consistently ranked amongst the city’s top high schools since 1994.

Where is it?The school is in New York City, on the east coast of the United States.

How does it link schools and museums?The school’s very core values explain that when students experience the real things that exist in the world as primary resources, they have a much better chance of understanding the value of history, language, sciences, and mathematics, and applying them to everyday life. The school curriculum is reinforced by specialised courses at the school’s partner museums, and various other museums and cultural institutions around the city. There are weekly museum visits as a part of this diverse curriculum.

Who is it partnered with?The school has a range of partner museums and institutions. At present these are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Japan Society, and the Robin Museum of Art.

Further informationhttp://www.nycmuseumschool.org


Bank Street College of Education has two excellent programmes in Museum Education, and one in Leadership in Museum Education. These programmes exist to prepare graduate students for two professional roles: a museum educator knowledgeable about children and schools, and/or a classroom teacher with specialist skills in integrating museums and museum teaching methods into the classroom.

Where is it?The college is in New York City, on the east coast of the United States.

How does it link schools and museums?Within the college there exists Bank Street School for Children. The combination of school and college working alongside one another creates a unique synergy between children and teachers. The School for Children is a working model of the college’s approach to learning and teaching, with a diverse curriculum which is also responsive to children’s needs. The curriculum is ‘real world’ based, including learning about literacy with integrating learning about libraries. The college students, upon graduation, will be well-equipped museum educators.

Who is it partnered with?The college and school are a partnership in their own right, and the school students participate in real-world learning, often at partner sites including various museums around the city.

Further informationhttps://www.bankstreet.edu


Museum Magnet Schools are elementary schools within the Washington, DC schools district. This is a system in which pupils spend as much time exploring the local museums and institutions as they do in the classroom. One of these schools is Brent Elementary, who have a Museum and Field Studies programme, drawing on the rich museum resources of Washington to make history, science, literature, and the arts come alive.

Where is it?Washington, DC, in the United States.

How does it link schools with museums?Pupils at Museum Magnet Schools spend as much time learning in a museum, gallery, or other cultural environment as they do learning in the classroom. Pupils are able to visit works of art and historical artefacts, as well as having opportunities to create their own exhibits and performances. Each school has its own theme every year, which seeks to create a web of learning and common interest between different classes and age ranges.

Who is it partnered with?The programme not only offers pupils the chance to learn within the array of museums in Washington, DC, but also further afield in cities including New York City, Los Angeles, and European cities such as Barcelona and Madrid.

Further informationhttp://www.brentelementary.org/


The Smithsonian Museum runs SEEC – Smithsonian Early Enrichment Centre. This is a programme for children aged six weeks to six years, and takes place onsite in several of the city’s museums. The programme was established 25 years ago with the aim of engaging students in meaningful museum experiences based upon educational strategies and techniques appropriate for children under the age of six.

Where is it?Washington, DC, in the United States

How does it link schools with museums?The programme provides a basis for children below school age, upon which they can build throughout their school experience. Children at SEEC learn about the world around them and new ideas via personal conversations with scientists, artists, and cultural historians. Children can learn about dinosaurs through conversations with palaeontologists and first hand experiences with exhibits, and early years pupils can explore nature intimately and discuss ideas through class visits to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre.

Who is it partnered with?Each of the museums within the Smithsonian Institution Group work together in partnership.

Further information https://www.si.edu/SEEC


School in the Park is a multi visit museum programme which caters for elementary and middle school students. The programme blends formal and informal learning using the resources of museums and other institutions in the park. The curriculum is integrated so that the programme complements classroom learning. School in the Park alters the normal educational setting and methodologies for students by moving the school out into the wider community, and focuses on authentic learning activities. The programme focuses on academic excellence, setting students on a path to achieving their current and future academies goals.

Where is it? Balboa Park, San Diego

How does it link schools with museums?It is a programme for two local schools, in which they can have out of the classroom learning experiences. The programme also supports the education departments of Balboa Park institutions.  

Who is it partnered with?It is a partnership between the Balboa Park institutions, such as Fleet Science Institution, the Museum of Photographic Arts, or the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society.

Further information http://schoolinthepark.net/about-sitp/


The Museum School is a tuition free, public charter school, for elementary and middle school students. Pupils here learn the basic curriculum, including reasoning, writing, mathematics, and science, alongside skills in “learning to learn”, supported by community goals of becoming responsible citizens, productive workers, creative healthy individuals, problem solvers, and self-directed learners. Arts are infused into the curriculum wherever possible.

Where is it?San Diego

How does it link schools with museums?The school takes advantage of the wealth of local resources

Who is it partnered with?It is partnered with local educational institutions including the Centre for World Music, EduDance, Museum of Photographic Arts, and The Old Globe Theatre.

Further information http://museumschool.org/


The Museum School of Avondale Estates is a public charter elementary and middle school, which opened in 2010 as the product of a grassroots effort on the part of dedicated parents to bring an innovative education opportunity to the area. The school has created a curriculum integrated with a varied programme of out-of-school experiences in partnership with a number of institutions. Their curriculum meets children at their individual levels of skill and readiness, rather than implementing a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum. The museum school has seen an outstanding level of success, and pupils at the school are among the top performers in the state.

Where is it?Decatur, Georgia

How does it link schools with museums?The school has partnered with a number of established learning and cultural institutions. Pupils visit the partner institutions several times a month, and in addition to this, partner institutions come to the school to work with pupils to acquire feedback on projects or programmes in development. The school also hosts an exhibition evening at the end of each semester, which offers children a chance to demonstrate what they have been learning. They not only showcase their work, they are also taught how to effectively explain and discuss what they have learned with exhibition attendees.

Who is it partnered with?Institutions including the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta History Centre, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the High Museum, Zoo Atlanta, and the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

Further information http://themuseumschool.org/welcome/history/



The Ogden Museum of Southern Art creates partnerships with Charter Management Organisations, which operate several schools under one administration. Their most recent partnership was the Studio Classroom Programme, which was a multi-visit curriculum, inviting students to the museum on multiple days which involved experiential, hands-on learning. The classroom moves from the school to the museum for one week of intensive arts experiences and immersion in the museum environment, combined with instruction of traditional subjects in the afternoon.

Where is it?New Orleans, Louisiana

How does it link schools with museums?This varies by partnership, but in the last partnership, the classes visited the museum on multiple days. The museum feel that there are many benefits to this, including students’ ability to observe the relationships between the art in the museum and what they themselves can make, empowering students who struggle with classroom learning, and students being able to share thoughts, ideas, and knowledge, with family members and the wider community to increase engagement with the museum and art in general amongst the community.

Who is it partnered with?A number of Charter Management Organisations. Any one class of up to 24 students can participate, of any age.

Further information http://labs.aam-us.org/blog/a-museum-school-partnership-why-its-important-how-it-works/



The Museum School, India, follows a curriculum which is designed to provide holistic education to underprivileged children through museum learning. In India, there is a large disparity in quality of education between rich children and poor children. The Organisation for Awareness of Integrated Social Security (OASIS) is a social innovations lab in Madhya Pradesh, and they embarked on a mission to remove the disparity in quality of education in urban areas. OASIS found that cities with a high number of slum children not in education also have a high number of museums and similar institutions. Museums in these cities each have a subject focus, and in these museums there are a wide range of exhibits for people of all ages. Thus, OASIS collaborated with the Museums to make them the setting for a school, using student teachers from local universities.

The school takes on a number of slum children who are not in education, and teaches them enough so that they might enter mainstream school. This has worked successfully with over 2500 children since 2005, some of whom are now studying at universities or have started their own businesses. Some children graduate from school and then go on to join the Museum School as regular teachers themselves. In addition to helping children, the Museum School takes on a number of educated girls from slums and trains them as literacy teachers, which not only empowers the girls, but also helps to create a safe community environment which parents feel comfortable sending their children to.

Where is it?Bhopal, India

How does it link schools with museums?The Museum School collaborates with a number of museums in the surrounding cities. At the museums, the students are allowed to touch, feel, and experiment with the day’s exhibits and then answer questions from their teachers, providing reasoning and evidence behind their answers. Children will ask questions at the end of class to fill their understanding gaps. Museums are used as the sole classroom of The Museum School, and teaching in such an environment encourages and nurtures children who have been let down and disenchanted by the traditional education system.

Who is it partnered with?The primary museum partners are Bhopal Regional Science Centre, Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (or, the National Museum of Humankind) in Bhopal, Regional Museum of Natural History in Mysore, State Museum, Bhopal, and the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum.

Further informationhttp://parvarish.weebly.com/ 

Pilot studies

Two primary schools and one nursery partnered up with three museums and galleries in order to carry out the live project pilot studies. The pilots served to begin the exploration of the possibilities and potential of the concept of a museum playing host to a school, as well as identifying possible future ways of working. Having three partnerships participating rather than just one not only allowed for more representative findings, but also enabled useful comparisons of the different dynamics, and what effect these had on the impacts across the pilots.

During the live pilots, the class teachers/early years practitioners from the educational institutions were responsible for the well-being of the children, pastoral care, and learning.

Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum and Hadrian Primary School 

The Year 5 class from Hadrian Primary School participated in one of the pilot studies, linking with Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum and using it as a ‘second classroom’ for three months, from January to March 2016. The class teacher was inspired by Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum’s spaces and collections to look beyond the obvious link with history, and dip into other subjects such as science and geography, and devising a wealth of writing prompts.

There have been positive impacts for Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, for Hadrian Primary School, and for the children. Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum have benefited through the solid foundation provided by the project, which has resulted in a strong relationship with the school, with the potential for reaching out to other local schools.

Overwhelmingly positive feedback from the participating class has left the whole school enthused. Teachers are now considering Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum a valuable and easily accessible teaching asset, and parents are also impressed by the enthusiasm shown by their children.

The visits to Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum have opened up children’s minds to an impressive piece of history and increased their thirst for learning. Their literacy and vocabulary skills were enhanced through writing historical diaries and updating the school’s social media. 

National Waterfront Museum, Swansea and St Thomas Community Primary School

The partnership in Swansea, South Wales, was comprised of pupils from St Thomas Community Primary School, and the National Waterfront Museum. Two different live pilots were held between these partners, with two sets of classes and their class teachers.

There were a number of positive impacts on the pupils, as reported by teachers. These were primarily personal growth and development, such as the children feeling more relaxed and confident. The children participated in ‘family style’ dining at the museum, and this resulted in improved relationship development between the children and between teachers and children. It was also evident that the children benefitted from the broad range of activities offered in the out-of-the-classroom environment.

The pilot has pushed teachers to be more creative and to rely less on classroom resources. It pushed individual teachers to innovate and push boundaries. Teachers involved in the pilot had a new appreciation that museum learning can be very relevant to younger age groups, for example, more trips are now being planned for younger age groups at the school.

Tate Liverpool and Life Bank Nursery at Kensington Children’s Centre

Children at the Life Bank Nursery in Liverpool spent two weeks at Tate Liverpool, from the 29th of February to the 11th of March 2016. The children were based in the gallery’s Clore Learning Centre, and were encouraged to explore the gallery’s resources, moving from one space to another to develop their interests.

The residency allowed Tate Liverpool an excellent opportunity to observe how very young children accessed the collection over an extended period.  There were a number of benefits for the children in attendance, including boosting their confidence and independence through being able to choose their own meals at lunch time, and eating with a knife and fork. The children particularly enjoyed dancing and mixing with other gallery visitors. Overall, it had a great impact on the children. They developed new friendships and increased confidence in speaking, particularly in group discussions.

The main challenges surrounded resources at Tate Liverpool, which meant that it was difficult to find the space to house a two-week residency for a class of nursery children. Extra staff could have relieved the pressure on the adults supervising activities.