If you have excellent communication, planning, creative and writing skills, as well as an interest in the museum sector, then you could find success as a museum education officer

As a museum education officer, you'll create and deliver a varied, dynamic and informative programme of museum education to adults and children. Delivering museum education is about more than teaching visitors about museum collections and individual exhibits. It can extend to the museum buildings themselves and also the history of the area. It can also address important issues relating to black history and Britain's colonial past, for example.

Programmes are often designed to engage those who may not normally use the museum or gallery, such as hard to reach young people, young children, older people and families. Programmes can cover both formal and informal learning and can be aimed at classes, groups or individuals.

You can work in museums, galleries or stately homes or in a community-based role.

Job titles vary and may not always be advertised as education officer. Look out for titles including learning, access, engagement and inclusion.

Responsibilities

As a museum education officer, it's your responsibility to engage the public. To do this, you'll need to:

  • create a learning strategy in line with the ethos of the museum
  • develop programmes of talks, activities and workshops around particular exhibitions or in response to particular themes or annual festivals
  • liaise with schools, colleges and teachers to promote the use of the collections and activities of the museum in line with the national curriculum
  • teach museum education to school groups in line with the national curriculum and school syllabus
  • create and develop educational resources for visitors, schools, families and special interest groups
  • deliver talks, workshops and activities in partnership with storytellers, craftspeople and artists
  • launch new initiatives such as working with new communities
  • manage programmes, budgets and teams of volunteers
  • facilitate activities in the local community in response to requests from schools and community groups or to promote particular exhibitions
  • collate, evaluate and apply feedback on the educational activities provided
  • evaluate the impact of your learning programme and provide reporting information
  • generate income and contribute to funding applications
  • contribute to strategic aims in smaller organisations
  • work with other museum staff to develop and market the museum and the events programme
  • represent and promote the museum on external educational bodies in order to establish a network of useful and productive partnerships.

Salary

  • Starting salaries at assistant level typically range from £18,000 to £20,000.
  • With experience, you can earn in the region of £20,000 to £28,000.
  • Salaries for senior management posts, leading on strategic and operational development, range from £30,000 to in excess of £40,000. The higher end of this scale is more likely to be paid at larger institutions.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although you may need to work some evenings, weekends and public holidays. If you work with children and families, you'll probably need to work in the school holidays and half terms.

Part-time roles and flexible working opportunities (e.g. job-share and flexi-time) are available.

What to expect

  • The working environment varies depending on the type of museum. You may be based either in a single museum or centrally to cover a variety of local provisions. In either case, local travel for outreach work or to attend meetings and exhibitions is common.
  • Depending on the size of the museum or gallery, you may be the only education officer or work as part of an education or learning team.
  • Although many opportunities are in large towns and cities, independent and specialist museums also exist in smaller towns and in rural areas, broadening the range of both employment and volunteering opportunities.
  • Temporary and fixed-term contracts are common, which can vary from a few months up to a few years. Freelance work is also becoming more common.
  • People from minority groups are currently under-represented in the museum sector. However, organisations such as the Museums Association (MA) and Group for Education in Museums (GEM) are actively involved in promoting wider access and opportunities through increasing the diversity of staff, volunteers and audiences.

Qualifications

The museum sector is committed to diversifying its workforce and expanding entry routes through traineeships and paid internships. However, the majority of museum education officers have degrees.

A degree or interest in the following subjects is particularly relevant:

  • archaeology
  • archive and museum studies
  • community education
  • cultural studies
  • education
  • English literature
  • environmental science
  • fine art
  • history
  • history of art.

Although it's not essential to have a degree in a specific subject, employers may prefer a particular subject to reflect the nature of their collections. For example, a degree in fine art or visual art is particularly relevant for an art gallery or the V&A museum, whereas a science and technology degree may be more relevant for the Science Museum.

Experience in, and knowledge of, the national curriculum is useful for museum education officers who work with school-aged children, and employers may look for applicants with a teaching qualification or experience of working with children in a classroom context.

Although not essential for entry-level posts, a Masters degree in a museums-related subject can be advantageous and may help with career progression. You could consider undertaking postgraduate study or further professional development while working.

Search postgraduate courses in museum studies.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • enthusiasm, passion, curiosity and an interest in the museum sector
  • communication and presentations skills
  • confidence in dealing with the public and addressing groups of people - any experience gained as a teacher, community or youth worker is useful
  • teaching skills to plan and deliver education activities in an engaging manner
  • writing skills to produce education resources for a range of audiences
  • creativity for designing participation activities and learning resources
  • commitment to working with adults, families, young people (including groups of school children) and special needs groups
  • ability to manage volunteers, budgets and resources
  • teamworking skills
  • self-motivation and the ability to work independently
  • a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt quickly to change and to compromise when necessary
  • the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
  • organisation, problem-solving and administration skills
  • knowledge of, and sensitivity to, cultural and disability issues.

Work experience

Competition for jobs can be fierce and pre-entry experience, usually as a museum volunteer, is crucial. Voluntary roles in areas such as learning activities, community events and family holiday activities can be particularly relevant.

Many museum volunteering opportunities are advertised online so you can try doing a general search. Alternatively, make targeted speculative applications to museums, galleries and heritage sites in your local area. Search for contact details by visiting the Museums Association online database.

Treat your request for voluntary work as if you're applying for paid work - find out about the museums you're interested in, visit them if you can, and when you contact them explain why you want to volunteer for them.

Some paid opportunities exist for education or learning assistant roles. Experience in a teaching or education role is also valuable.

Membership of the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) provides a range of benefits, including networking opportunities, access to training and career development resources, and a copy of their annual Journal of Education in Museums. You could also join the Museums Association (MA). Student membership at a reduced rate is available with both organisations.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

Employers

Museum educational posts are found in a range of museums throughout the UK. Generally, museums fall into one of the following categories:

  • National museums - such as the National Museum of Scotland, The British Museum, the National Museum Wales and the Ulster Museum. National museums and galleries receive funding directly from central government and hold collections of national importance. Many are located in capital cities and tend to be larger organisations. Jobs are usually more specialised.
  • Regional and local museums - the size and scope of museums in a local authority varies, ranging from major regional services such as Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums to smaller institutions such as the Guildford Museum. Museums can portray the history of a locality or focus on a particular sector or period of time, e.g. The Gordon Highlanders Museum or The Roman Baths in Bath.
  • University museums - a number of universities have significant museum collections and employ education officers. These include The Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham, The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow and the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford.
  • Independent museums - These are self-funding and range from small volunteer-run museums such as the National Coracle Centre, Wales, to art spaces like the Arnolfini in Bristol, and larger organisations including the Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Telford.
  • Regimental museums - the museums of the British Army Corps and Regiments help to depict the history of army units and the national and global impacts of war.

You may also be employed by private collectors, local authorities, public sector organisations, archaeological units and galleries.

Look for job vacancies at:

Many of the larger museums and galleries also advertise vacancies and voluntary opportunities on their websites.

Heritage organisations also advertise vacancies. These include:

Professional development

The Group for Education in Museums (GEM) is an organisation aimed at people delivering a broad range of learning activities in the heritage sector. They provide a range of continuing professional development (CPD) training opportunities and events for museum education officers, as well as a one-to-one mentoring programme. They also provide a core competency framework specific to learning for CPD.

The MA also offers professional development programmes for their members, designed for those already working in the sector:

  • Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA) - a professional development award that usually takes three years to complete and helps you take responsibility for your professional development with the support of a mentor. You'll need to develop a CPD plan and record and reflect on your development activities, as well as undertake a work-based project. Assessment is via a professional review undertaken by a trained senior sector colleague.
  • Fellowship of the Museums Association (FMA) - recognises and encourages an advanced level of professional contribution, development and achievement.

Other training opportunities are provided by Engage (the National Association for Gallery Education), an advocacy and training network for gallery education, which provides a range of conferences, seminars and events.

A variety of in-service courses are also run by regional federations of museums, specialist groups and private training providers, or you could take further study at postgraduate level.

Career prospects

Few museums are big enough to offer much career progression. Staff in large organisations, and specialist staff whose work relates to a single museum collection, usually progress through graded posts. This can be from roles such as assistant education officer to education officer, then into a management role, e.g. operations manager, and ultimately to head of education or access and learning. In senior roles, you'll be involved with the strategic development and efficient running of the department.

Elsewhere, promotion prospects may be limited, so you may have to move to another museum or area for a more senior post.

Museum staff need to manage their own career progression, which is likely to include a number of short-term contracts, and may include freelance and consultancy work. Staff may also move between sectors, particularly at senior managerial or specialist technical level, or into the visual arts.

Ongoing promotion is likely to be towards broader management roles, such as museum director or director of leisure or cultural services, which would mean less daily contact with visitors and community groups.

Find out how Amy became an assistant learning officer at BBC Bitesize.

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