English at the Museum

Case Study

English at the Museum: the museum as a classroom for improving literacy

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) and Exeter College worked in partnership to deliver the pilot course English at the Museum in 2014.

The challenge

Poor adult literacy is a serious obstacle to both employment and mental wellbeing in England. Around 16% of the nation’s adults – 5.2 million people – do not have the reading or writing skills expected of an 11-year-old. This closes off many areas of work and can make it a painful struggle to do everyday tasks or help children with their schooling.

Not everyone thrives in a traditional classroom, and RAMM provides a safe, welcoming, and very different environment for learning.  Museum objects provoke conversation amongst people regardless of background and experience, and help to create supportive groups from people who were previously strangers.

The background

RAMM wanted to do more to help local people back into employment, and approached Exeter College because of its experience of running employment-focused courses.  Both RAMM and Exeter College are members of Devon’s Recovery Learning Community, which supports people to look after their own wellbeing.

The National Literacy Trust says that while very few people in England are completely illiterate, many people have problems accessing information from unfamiliar sources or unfamiliar topics.

Part of the Community’s focus is to encourage people to think about how they might get back into work and to develop practical creative skills. Its ethos is that meeting other people and sharing experiences can open new avenues for learning and make new choices possible.

The project

The pilot course English at the Museum ran in March 2014 in partnership with Exeter College. Its eight adult students explored the galleries, engaged in discussions and did written work relating to what they had seen and discovered about the museum’s collections.

What changed?

Exeter College evaluation found that most students on the course felt:

  • their self-esteem had been raised
  • their personal confidence had increased
  • their job prospects had increased
  • they felt inspired to continue studying
  • they could progress to a higher level course
  • their wellbeing had improved
  • they had made good friends
  • they were more part of the community.

The skills of the tutor were very highly regarded and RAMM was much appreciated as an appropriate learning space.

What did people say?

“It was interesting to see how the museum works and I enjoyed participating in the course and meeting fellow students.  I liked learning history.” Participant

“I would have liked the course to be longer.” Participant

“The welcome we received and the freedom to explore the museum’s delights and secrets, both front of house and backstage, made an enormous difference to the students’ confidence and trust in working together. This led to lively group discussions and some highly descriptive, imaginative and impressive pieces of writing.”  Course tutor

What next?

The course has been repeated and continues to work well whenever we are able to offer it.

For further information

Please contact Ruth Gidley,  RAMM Engagement Officer: [email protected].

English at the Museum Case Study PDF