WHEN IS A CHILD NOT A CHILD?
19.08.2011 / Dea Birkett / 0 Comments
asks Dea Birkett, director of Kids in Museums – and fails to get an answer
...and John Evans, editor of the guide to guide to sports museums etc, Sportcloseup (www.sportsupclose.co.uk), responds to Dea Birkett’s last article which questioned museums’ role in the Olympics
When is a child not a child? Well, no one in the museum sector is quite sure. The World of James Herriot wrote to ask, "Is there a universal policy on children under the age of 16 visiting a museum without being accompanied by an adult?" The answer is - it doesn't appear so.
There is a lower age limit. For a museum to allow children eight and under to visit alone, it should be Ofsted registered. (At least, this is the generally held belief.) But any older than that, it's up to the individual institution to set its own limits.
At the Geffrye Museum in London, if you're under 12 you need to be with an adult. This figure wasn't just plucked from a childcare manual. The Geffrye says, 'The age limit was decided upon in consultation with social services at Hackney Council and other local agencies, such as the Learning Trust, police and the NHS team with responsibility for child protection. Their feeling was that at 11 most children start to go to school independently and travel around independently, and therefore it was okay to visit the museum independently."
So why is there such a widespread fear in the museum sector of gangs of unaccompanied kids marauding around exhibits?
Unaccompanied kids, alone or in groups, often drop in to Goole Community Museum in Yorkshire. The muse- um uses these visits to teach young people, however indi- rectly, the values of respecting objects. "Encouraging children is very much a part of our community ethos - they are aware that if they misbehave they will be required to leave, and if they persistently come in and misbehave they will not be allowed to come back. This is policed very firmly by the attendant. We feel it's an important part of their social education that they learn how to behave in a public building, and treat the displays and other visitors (and staff) with respect" says the museum. This open attitude also encourages more family members to visit. "Many children who have dropped in, often with much younger siblings in tow, come back repeatedly, and bring adult relatives with them" says Goole.
The problem is that not everyone throughout an organisation is necessarily so welcoming of troupes of teenagers in hoodies. One museum consultant confessed, "I know too many places where the education team are trying their best to get young people into the venues, only to be thwarted by front of house staff who ask them to leave. It's a problem that's fairly common."
Kids in Museums also found confusion about how old a child has to be before considered grown up when we conducted our Family Ticket Watch research. When it came to charging, museums differed wildly. Many began asking full admission price aged 12 and up; some as low as five. We even found a few institutions that counted children as adult price at different ages for events and admission, so whether a child was considered a child depended on why they were there.
It would be helpful to get some national guidance on this, not only for pricing. That many museums don't know if they are even allowed to have unaccompanied children wandering through their galleries is wrong. There should be a clear central policy, so that museums aren't nervous of breaking some law of which they're not aware. And it shouldn't err on the side of caution, but of freedom and inclusivity.
Far better to have a few children needing a little bit of direction while wandering alone among your master- pieces than no children at all. Let's regard children com- ing to museums on outings with their friends as an opportunity to grasp, not a problem to be grappled with.
More about Family Ticket Watch at www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk.
Museums deserve an Olympic gold, not Dea's wooden spoon, says John Evans of Sportcloseup
Britain's museums will be miss- ing not just a trick but a whole bag-full of them if they follow Dea Birkett's advice ("Why I'm not carrying a torch for the Olympics") in last month's AI.
Three times she warned muse- ums not to get into "a race" with the London 2012 Games - and questioned why they were bothering to stage exhibitions and activities linked to the world's biggest sporting event coming to Britain next year.
And, yes, it would be fanciful for our museums, however grand, to think of trying to "keep up" with the sporting Joneses (should it be the Bolts or Adlingtons?), and somehow take on a global festival of sport that generates an audience running into billions. But, of course, they are not.
If knocking down straw men was an Olympic sport, Dea would be a strong contender for a place in Team GB. She attributes wholly unrealistic views to museums - that they obviously do not share - and then questions 'their' wisdom in having these sky-high ambitions.
Truth is, many museums know they are on to a gold-plated opportunity, not a loser, when it comes to 2012. And they realise that their Olympic-sized window of opportu-nity to do something about sport lasts for a year and more, not just a few weeks when we may be pre- occupied with watching the action on TV, or even in the flesh.
The reality is that we have a great story to tell. The International Olympic Committee's president, Jacques Rogge, says Britain is the country that invented modern sport. He's right. Here is some of the evidence.
In twenty extraordinary years starting in 1860, we staged the world's first football and rugby internationals, went to Australia to play the first cricket test, wrote the rules of football, and started Wimbledon and the Open Championship - the first of the big four tennis and golf tournaments.
At Newmarket in Suffolk, the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock, the Hampshire village of Hambledon and at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire we planted the seeds of modern horse racing, the Olympics, cricket and Paralympic sport. The four minute barrier for the mile was smashed here - in Oxford - on a track you can walk around today. And at Brooklands in Surrey the terrific museum nestles up against what remains of the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit - an ancient monument, 1907 model.
This is just a flavour of the extraordinary stories that represent Britain's sporting heritage. More than 40 sports museums, from Fife and Ballymoney to Carmarthen Bay and the New Forest, reflect it. So do exhibitions on now about the art of tennis, the pioneering motorcycle road races of Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, the science of sport and the contribution made by sports- men and women from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Yes, this is exactly the right time, not the wrong one, to be showcasing our sporting heritage. In spite of the damage to our inter-
national image caused by the rioting in England's cities, we will still wel- come tens of millions of visitors to the UK next year, many for the Olympics - most probably completely unaware that Britain has a unique pedigree as the birthplace of a sporting revolution, not just the better-known industrial one.
Why on earth wouldn't we want to use sport as part of the sales pitch for our great museums - not just for these many foreign visitors, but for British people who don't know their own history? And sport is a great way for museums to reach out to young people, who may sometimes see them (however unfairly) as old buildings containing old things interesting only to old people.
Sport is a bridge that can attract new audiences to museums. And the Olympics is putting our sporting history centre-stage. It is getting sport into the minds of museum directors. It is getting sport taken increasingly seriously as part of our special mix of heritage in this country. That sounds to me like an achievement worthy of a gold medal, not a wooden spoon.
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