Museum education officers aim to deliver high quality and dynamic programmes of learning and participation. They ensure that a museum's collections act as a learning resource for all ages. They work both within the galleries or museums and also in a community context
Museum education officers develop, deliver and evaluate programmes and events for classes, groups or individuals, 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.
The range of duties carried out by a museum education officer varies depending on the size, finances and outreach policies of each museum, but tasks typically involve:
- creating a learning strategy to engage the public in line with the ethos of the museum;
- developing programmes of talks, activities and workshops around particular exhibitions or in response to particular themes or annual festivals;
- liaising with schools, colleges and teachers to promote the use of the collections and activities of the museum in line with the national curriculum;
- creating and developing educational resources for visitors, schools, families and special interest groups;
- delivering talks, workshops and activities in partnership with storytellers, craftspeople and artists;
- managing programmes, budgets and teams of volunteers;
- facilitating history-inspired activities in the local community in response to requests from schools and community groups or to promote particular exhibitions;
- collating, analysing and applying feedback on the educational activities provided;
- working with other museum staff to develop and market the museum and the events programme;
- representing and promoting the museum on external educational bodies in order to establish a network of useful and productive partnerships.
- Range of typical starting salaries: £17,000 - £20,000.
- Range of typical salaries for senior posts contributing to the museum’s strategic development, e.g. after six to ten years' experience: £31,000 - £45,000.
Salaries vary between independent, local authority and national museums. Independent organisations may not pay as highly as local authorities.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are based on a Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm working day, although work on evenings, weekends and public holidays is increasingly common.
Part-time roles are available as well as flexible working opportunities, e.g. job-share and flexi-time.
What to expect
- The working environment varies depending on the type of museum. Staff may be based in a single museum or may be based centrally and cover a variety of local provision. In either case, local travel for outreach work or to attend meetings and exhibitions is quite common.
- Recently, there has been a rise in fixed-term contracts, which can vary from a few months to up to five years. Freelance work is also becoming more common.
- Traditionally, a high proportion of the workforce has been female, but this has more or less evened out and the gender balance is now reasonably equal.
- People from minority groups are currently under-represented in the museum sector. However, organisations such as engage (the National Association for Gallery Education) and the Museums Association (MA) are actively involved in promoting wider access and opportunities through increasing the diversity of staff, volunteers and audiences.
- 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.
- The role generally requires a smart-casual appearance, and the working atmosphere tends to be informal.
- Overnight absence from home and overseas travel are rarely required.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:
- archive and museum studies;
- community education;
- environmental science;
- cultural studies;
- history of art;
- fine art.
The nature of collections held by individual museums means that certain degree subjects may be more relevant. For example, a degree in fine art or visual art may be particularly relevant for an art gallery or the V&A Museum, a science and technology degree for the Science Museum, and an English literature degree for the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.
Entry without a degree or HND is unusual.
Experience in and knowledge of the national curriculum is useful for museum education officers who work with school-aged children, and employers often look for applicants with either a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) (a Professional Graduate Diploma of Education (PGDE) in Scotland) or experience of working with children in a classroom context.
A postgraduate qualification in museum studies, together with relevant work experience and contacts within the sector, may also improve employment opportunities. A range of postgraduate courses is available, using a variety of modes of study. For a list of courses, see the Museums and Galleries Yearbook and search for postgraduate courses in museum studies.
You will need:
- good communication skills, both written and oral;
- confidence in dealing with the public;
- teaching skills to plan and deliver activities in an engaging manner;
- imagination and creativity in designing activities and resources;
- commitment to working with adults, families, young people and special needs groups;
- ability to manage volunteers, budgets and resources;
- teamworking skills;
- self-motivation and the ability to work independently;
- good organisational and administration skills;
- knowledge and sensitivity to cultural and disability issues.
Experience of working with groups of people as a teacher, community or youth worker is also useful, as is experience of developing and producing learning materials.
Competition for jobs is inevitable and pre-entry experience, usually as a museum volunteer, is crucial. When searching for voluntary opportunities, contact local museums as well as the larger and national ones. For a list of independent museums, see the Association of Independent Museums (AIM). Also, contact organisations such as the British Association of Friends of Museums.
Treat your request for voluntary work as if you are applying for paid work - find out about the museums you are interested in, visit them if you can, and when you contact them, explain why you want to volunteer for them and the role or project with which you would like to be involved.
Student membership of the Museums Association (MA) is useful and provides a range of benefits, including networking opportunities, access to training and career development resources, job alerts and a subscription to Museums Journal, the MA's monthly news magazine. Volunteer membership is also available.
Museum educational posts are found in a range of museums throughout the UK. Generally, there are four broad types of museums:
- 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. Many are located in capital cities and tend to be the larger museums. Jobs are usually more specialised.
- Regional and local museums - The size and scope of museums in a local authority varies, ranging from large regional services such as Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, which has 12 museums and galleries attracting 1.6 million visitors per year, to institutions such as the Guildford Museum, attracting 27,000 visitors a year. 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 and Pump Room 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, e.g. the National Coracle Centre, Wales, to art spaces, e.g. the Arnolfini in Bristol, and larger organisations, e.g. The Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Telford.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Arts Job Finder
- engage (the National Association for Gallery Education) - for vacancies in galleries and the visual arts (available to members).
- Global Museum - international jobs, especially in the USA.
- Group for Education in Museums (GEM) - vacancies and a guide to freelance employment.
- Leicester University School of Museum Studies Jobs Desk - national and international vacancies.
- Local Government Jobs
- Museum Jobs
- Museums Association (MA)
- Museums Journal - the MA's monthly magazine.
- National Museum Jobs
- Guardian Jobs - particularly creative and media, education and public appointments sections.
- Jobs.ac.uk - especially for education, research and technical appointments.
- Times Educational Supplement Jobs
- Times Higher Education Jobs
- Local press.
Heritage organisations may also advertise vacancies, for example:
Contact details for museums, galleries and heritage sites in the UK can be found in the Museums and Galleries Yearbook.
Recruitment agencies rarely advertise vacancies.
The Museums Association (MA) offers several continuing professional development (CPD) schemes for its members, designed for those already working in the sector:
- Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA) - a level of membership of the MA and a professional development award. The AMA usually takes two to three years to complete and helps you take responsibility for your professional development with the support of a mentor.
- CPD Plus - professional development after having achieved AMA. You will need to undertake and record at least 35 hours of professional development a year.
- Fellowship of the Museums Association (FMA) - senior and experienced staff members can apply for Fellowship, which aims to recognise and encourage an advanced level of professional contribution, development and achievement. Preferably applicants should be Associates.
Postgraduate study is another option. Search for postgraduate courses in museum studies.
Other training opportunities are provided by:
- Group for Education in Museums (GEM) - runs an annual conference focusing on a particular current education theme, a programme of training days throughout the UK and regular area meetings that explore relevant issues and developments and encourage networking;
- engage (the National Association for Gallery Education) - a membership organisation that represents gallery, art and education professionals and provides a range of CPD activities, including informal area group meetings, an annual conference and seminar programme and opportunities for international contact and exchange.
A variety of in-service courses are also run by regional federations of museums, specialist groups and private training providers. Many such courses are available to voluntary staff. Creative Choices also advertises details of short courses.
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, e.g. from assistant education officer to education officer to head of access and learning. 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.