A guest post from Amy McDowall, Primary Learning Coordinator, on a fantastic new approach to developing connections between schools and collections.
We know that many schools are deeply missing our hugely popular Ancient Worlds galleries, especially the workshops we ran for over 20,000 pupils every year. During our part-closure for hello future, we’re experimenting with new and innovative ways to maintain access to this wonderful collection.
Our Inflatable Museum is of course a fantastic way to bring the wonder and curiosity of Manchester Museum to communities across Greater Manchester, and we’re really pleased that this is continuing for another year. Last year, 100% of teachers have rated their experience with the Inflatable Museum as excellent or good, and 100% would book us again … and many are, so if you are a teacher of ancient Egypt hoping for us to enhance your topic this year, get your booking in soon!
We’re also really proud of our award-winning Shabtis in School programme, which we piloted in 2018-19. The programme places ancient Egyptian ‘shabti’ funerary figures in primary and secondary schools across Greater Manchester.
Through installing a single, authentic artefact into a school setting for an extended period of time, the Shabtis in School programme aims to:
- raise aspiration and build skills in history for pupils
- expand subject knowledge for teachers
- provide a focus for school community engagement
- promote cross-curricular collaboration between professionals
- build social and cultural capital for pupils
In 2018-19, the programme worked with five schools that were willing to throw themselves into a new idea and try this new way of working, and we were really grateful for the teachers’ enthusiasm and commitment. The schools were Parrs Wood High School, Newall Green High School, Heald Place Primary School, Abraham Moss Community School, and St Margaret’s C of E Primary School.
We held a project planning and training afternoon in September for all the teachers on the project, where they went ‘behind the scenes’ and received expert information from our curatorial and conservation teams, before getting stuck into planning with our learning team. The shabtis were installed and unveiled over the winter, often to great acclaim: many schools hosted local community leaders, councillors, and even their MP at opening events!
The variety of activity led by the schools was also fantastic to see. They ranged from a reconstruction of King Seti I’s tomb, carving shabtis from soap and mummifying tomatoes, to video conference debates with curators, hosting local primary schools, creating an in-school newspaper ‘The Niles News’ and even a day where Year 3 pupils hosted their own exhibition in our Inflatable Museum.
Thanks to the dedication of these teachers, and the collaboration of teams from right across Manchester Museum, just five little shabtis impacted upon over 5000 pupils aged 3-18 – an incredible number! It has enabled lots of collaborative working, raised the profile of history in the schools and of the schools in their communities, as well as increasing parental involvement in school activity.
“I’d say it’s a fantastic hook, and it offers so many opportunities to use as a stimulus for enquiry, not just in history, but there’s so many other options [like] philosophical debates, writing historical fiction about it. There’s all this discovery that children can have and I think that’s a really exciting thing” – Heald Place Primary School teacher
“I think it has engaged all our pupils and it has created learning opportunities to develop those key skills, research, that analysis, that evaluation, which are skills they need in all subjects …This experience with the shabti is something these children will tell their grandchildren” – Parrs Wood High School Teacher
For the Museum, this project is a great example of cross-team collaboration; it couldn’t have happened without the input, time and energy of numerous colleagues from across the Museum’s curatorial, workshop and conservation teams, variously providing the shabtis and sharing their wisdom and passion for all things Ancient Egyptian, carrying out environmental and security assessments at each venue, and building the bespoke new cases, not to mention travelling up and down Manchester to install and take care of them (and even getting stuck in a lift at one school!).
The programme has attracted the attention of museum practitioners nationally, many of whom are considering running their own version. It was featured as a case study in a PhD thesis at University College London, whose author Amanda Ford Spora described it as: “a truly unique approach […] A ground-breaking engagement between the community of Manchester’s young people, teachers, museum specialists and the shabtis.” The programme has also won internal recognition through a University of Manchester ‘Making a Difference Award’
Our new batch of schools will begin their activity in September 2019. With the recent inclusion of ‘cultural capital’ in the new Ofsted inspection framework, we’re really excited to innovate further with this year’s teachers, particularly around how we measure impact on this crucial area of young people’s education.