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Introduction to learning and access

This advice guide is aimed at learning practitioners in museums and galleries in Scotland. It’s also helpful for teachers who may wish to use museums’ resources to support their teaching. It provides details of available resources and different approaches to formal and informal learning in museums and galleries across the sector.  

Learning is central to the activity of all museums. It delivers benefits to your visitors and your community. Museum collections can support and inspire learning and enjoyment for children and young people. 

Types of Learning in Museums

Learning in museums can be formal, non-formal, and informal.  

Formal learning is structured and intentional and mostly takes place in schools, colleges, and higher education 

Non-formal learningtakes place outside of formal learning environments but within some kind of organisational framework.  

Informal learningtakes place outside of schools and colleges and arises from the learner’s involvement in activities that are not undertaken with a learning purpose in mind. Informal learning is involuntary and is sometimes referred to as experiential learning. 

Working together with schools

Museums play an important role in collaborating with schools to help deliver dynamic formal learning experiences in line with the Curriculum for Excellence. Museums play an important role in the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence, working collaboratively with Education Scotland and individual schools. 

Formal learning activities are traditionally divided into age-based groups: 

  • Early Years (0-5) 
  • Primary School (5-12) 
  • Secondary School (12-18) 

There’s also opportunity for museums to work effectively with schools or other formal learning providers including additional support for learning (ASL) and special education needs and disability (SEND). Museums continue to explore opportunities to work with higher education institutions, including colleges and universities, and with organisations that deliver lifelong learning programmes.

Curriculum for Excellence

Frameworks guiding museum learning provision

The Curriculum for Excellence is the Scottish curriculum framework, designed to support learning of  young people aged 3-18. It sets out what young people should learn, know, and be able to do at different levels providing them the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes they need to adapt, think critically and flourish in today’s world. This framework encourages cross-curricular approaches and interdisciplinary learning.

The goal of the Curriculum for Excellence is to enable young people to become:  

  • Successful learners 
  • Confident individuals 
  • Responsible citizens 
  • Effective contributors

The overall aspirations of the framework are to: 

  • Improve educational outcomes (attainment)for all young people, with a relevant curriculum offering greater choice 
  • Close the gap between high- and low-achieving students 
  • Prepare young people for life, with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to compete in the workforce 

The Curriculum for Excellence presents opportunities for museums to contribute and support the learning experiences of children and young people. Each subject in a curriculum area has a set of Experiences and Outcomes (often called Es+Os) to be achieved by children and young people as they move through the levels of the curriculum areas. These are a set of statements about children’s learning and progression in each curriculum area and are the outcomes you’ll need to think about when planning and developing your learning activities. You can find out more about Es+Os from Education Scotland. 

The framework is organised under eight curriculum areas for all students up to the end of S3. These are: 

  • Languages 
  • Mathematics/Numeracy 
  • Expressive Arts 
  • Technologies 
  • Sciences 
  • Social Studies 
  • Health and Wellbeing 
  • Religious and Moral Education 

Each of these curriculum areas is, divided into several related subjects. Museums often seem an obvious fit for supporting formal learning in social studies, but your museum can also contribute to interdisciplinary learning across the curriculum. It’s important to work together with education professionals and think creatively about the difference your museum can make to education.

Examples of museum resources developed around Curriculum for Excellence: 

Glasgow Museums Learning Resource 

Colourful Heritage Resource pack for schools 

Building and sustaining relationships with schools

If you’re already working with a teacher or teachers, they’re a great resource for improving and building your formal learning programme. 

While building on pre-existing relationships with teachers and educators is important, you should strive to contact new schools.  

  • Seek opportunity to meet with your local teachers. Make sure you choose an appropriate means of communicating with them: e-mails may not be appropriate for time-sensitive communications, as these may go unanswered for many days/weeks during the busiest times.
  • Once you’ve contacted an interested teacher or group of teachers, it’s important to discuss and agree on the best means of communicating to keep these relationships active.

What do schools want?

Effective communication is key to successfully working with schools. Attend staff meetings and learning development events and take advantage of our ‘Blether Together’ events for teachers, community learning and development and museum learning practitioners in partnership with Education Scotland. 

To embed your learning activities within and beyond the curriculum in a structured, progressive, and sustained way, you’ll need to plan carefully and consult with teachers and pupils throughout the development and delivery of your programming. 

When planning to contact schools, do your research in advance. Look at the school’s programme online: sometimes, this will include plans for the whole academic year, set in advance of the August school start. Look at how your collection can complement the activities schools are planning.  

In developing and sharing your programme for schools, provide a variety and range of learning activities and resources. It’s recommended that (where possible) you offer access to collections both in the museum, and off-site (such as through handling/loan boxes, etc) to enable wider participation. Use technology where appropriate to facilitate learning in away that makes collections accessible, relevant, and interesting. 

Making an Impact: Approaches to museum learning provision 

There’s strong evidence that learning outside the classroom, especially within museums and galleries, has a positive impact on learning.

Object-based learning has been shown to enhance learning and experience of learners. It’s also been shown to improve exam results and can provide an exciting way to embed classroom learning for pupils of all ages. 

Sharing the benefits that museums and object-based learning offer with teachers as part of your early meetings can help them to better understand the value of collaboration with your organisation and how your programmes can help support the learning of children and young people.

For more examples of the educational benefits that museums provide, read our Museums and Education impact report. The report provides a summary of the impact that museums have on learning as well as a range of case studies from across the sector.

Contact us

If you have any questions about working with schools, please contact our Learning and Engagement Manager, Loretta Mordi at