If you can create and deliver a varied and informative programme of education to adults and children then a career as a museum education officer might be for you

Museum education officers aim to deliver high quality and dynamic programmes of learning and participation. They ensure that the collections in a museum act as a learning resource for all ages. They can work both within galleries and 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.

Responsibilities

As a museum education officer, you’ll need to:

  • create a learning strategy to engage the public 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;
  • directly teach school groups museum education in line with the 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;
  • manage programmes, budgets and teams of volunteers;
  • facilitate history-inspired activities in the local community in response to requests from schools and community groups or to promote particular exhibitions;
  • collate, analyse and apply feedback on the educational activities provided;
  • 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 for museum education officers fall between £17,000 and £20,000.
  • Salaries for officers with experience (in smaller organisations the role may involve contributing to the strategic aims) can be expected to reach £20,000 to £28,000.
  • The salary range for senior posts, leading strategic development, with more than ten years experience range between £30,000 and £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 will typically work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, 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 to cover a variety of local provisions. In either case, local travel for outreach work or to attend meetings and exhibitions is quite common.
  • 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.
  • There are more women employed in the museum sector than men and a number of organisations, including the Arts Council are looking at ways to address this.
  • 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.

Qualifications

You will need a degree to work as a museum education officer. Entry without a degree or with an HND only is unusual.

A degree in the following subjects is particularly relevant:

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

It is not essential to have a degree in a specific subject, but the nature of collections held by individual museums means that certain subjects may be more relevant. For example, a degree in fine art or visual art 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.

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.

Although not essential for entry, a Masters degree can be advantageous and may help you to progress at a later stage. You could consider undertaking postgraduate study while working. Search postgraduate courses in museum studies.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • enthusiasm, passion, curiosity and an interest in the museum sector;
  • good communication skills, both written and oral;
  • 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;
  • imagination and creativity for designing participation activities and learning resources;
  • commitment to working with adults, families, young people (including groups of schoolchildren) and special needs groups;
  • ability to manage volunteers, budgets and resources;
  • team working skills;
  • self-motivation and the ability to work independently;
  • good organisational and administration skills;
  • knowledge and sensitivity to cultural and disability issues.

Work experience

Competition is often fierce and pre-entry experience, usually as a museum volunteer, is crucial. Many museum volunteering opportunities are advertised online so you can try doing a general search. You can also contact museums speculatively using:

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.

Student membership of the 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.

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 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.
  • 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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Heritage organisations also advertise vacancies:

You can search for contact details for museums, galleries and heritage sites throughout the UK, by subscribing to the MA's online database Find a Museum.

Professional development

The 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. This is currently suspended pending a staff review.
  • Fellowship of the Museums Association (FMA) - this professional development award recognises and encourages an advanced level of professional contribution, development and achievement.

Postgraduate study is another option. 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. Short courses are also advertised by Creative Choices.

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, 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. For this reason, museum education officers often stay in their post for many years.

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.