Reviewing Your School Visits
Education programmes often run for years without a thorough review. Is it time you had a good look at yours?

With a major curriculum review in progress, an uncertain future for new qualifications such as Diplomas and the growing prominence of mechanisms such as pupil referral units (PRUs), we need our programmes to be fit for purpose and ready to adapt.

Schools are changing...
• There's a move away from teacher-focused learningHabitat study
• and a move towards pupil-focused learning
• It's all about developing understanding rather than memorising
• Fostering skills rather than facts
• Applying skills to the real world

The new National Curriculum will set out only the essential knowledge that all children should acquire, and give schools and teachers more freedom to decide how to teach this most effectively and to design a wider school curriculum that best meets the needs of their pupils.
This is all great news for historic houses, country parks, museums and galleries because we can offer ‘real world’ learning.

Learning needs...
• Active, constructive involvement of the learner
• To be a social activity
• Meaningful activities that have relevance to our real lives
• To relate to prior knowledge

Personalised learning is a buzz word that's being used a lot.  Practically, this means teaching is designed to ensure that the talents of every individual can be fully realised.  It aims to raise standards for all by setting high expectations based on a sound knowledge and understanding of every child.

How do you know how good your existing programme is?
Evaluation is the key and there are lots of ways you can review your current programme.

First of all look for what data you already have:
Do you have piles of teacher questionnaires propping open your office door or keeping the printer from 'flying away'?! Maybe you give them a cursory glance at the end of each session, but having a thorough and objective review of what teachers are telling you is a good place to start. If possible, it is useful to get someone subjective to review this for you as it will help reduce bias. But, if you are honest with yourself and don’t make excuses then you can learn a lot from this existing feedback.

What’s about booking data? If you have a large programme that runs across more than one site, or with more than one session then it can be hugely beneficial to review booking history. It will show you which sessions are most popular and perhaps which have been wearing off. Can you identify trends in what workshops schools are booking when, and when your quieter periods are? You may even be able to identify your key catchment areas by location or key stage groups or review the proportions of schools booking workshops compared to those having self guided visits.

There are plenty of other ways you can gather data to help you form an informed opinion about your programmes.

You could organise interviews with teachers who have visited in the past. These can be done informally over the telephone and will still provide you a wealth of feedback on what you currently offer. Don’t forget to review all areas; from booking, to information sent in advance and from suitability of the site to quality of sessions and teaching.

You may want to run a teacher focus group to find out in much more depth how effective and easy to use your programme is.  Download a guide to running focus groups

You may also want to try and get in contact with teachers who have not visited you, or who have stopped visiting you. This may help you find those barriers to visiting and opportunities to develop.
Why not have your education workshop leaders peer review sessions? They can provide each other with honest and critical feedback and share good ideas.

Or, why not team up with another local site and peer-review each other?  It is easy to think of other sites as competition but there are many ways you can work together which are mutually beneficial. Fresh eyes can offer a new perspective and open your mind to new possibilities.

Key things to remember when designing or improving an education programme:


  • We’re offering real world learning – make the most of what can’t be done in the classroom

  • Teachers will seek out unique resources that make the most of resources they don't have access to. Yuor collection can be hugely valuable to you here.

  • Focus on enquiry and helping children to form ideas and opinions

  • Give choices where you can

  • Provide learning experiences that use a range of styles and formats

  • Use all the senses

  • Don't forget the whole visitor experience for schools - check the engagement pyramid for schools pictured here (copyright Kate Measures, 2011).

If you want to promote activie learning in small teams, why not try using Belle Wallace’s TASC model.   This is a relatively new model that is particularly aimed at more able students in primary school but could easily be applied to learning outside the classroom for any age.

TASC stands for Thinking Actively in the Social Context. On a particular topic, students are asked to:

• Gather/Organise: What do I know about this?
• Identify: What is the task?
• Generate: How many ideas can I think of?
• Decide: Which is the best idea?
• Implement:  Let’s do it!
• Evaluate:  How well did I do?
• Communicate:  Let’s tell someone!
• Learn from experience:  What have I learned?

This model is also a good way to incorporate personalised learning approaches into programmes and sharing the results of investigations at your site.

Need to justify the reasons behind your programme?  Try the ImagineNation report (2011) for some inspiration.

Useful resources: