GEM 75
GEM 75:
In 2023, Group for Education in Museums is celebrating its 75th anniversary. This project highlights the important milestones in GEM's rich history and shows how the museum learning community evolved and developed over the years.
GEM Conference 1988
This year GEM is celebrating its 75th anniversary. We are marking this important milestone with a very special digital project, #GEM75. Launched at GEM Conference 2023, this project comprises the archival materials and testimonials telling the story of GEM and its important role in developing the museum learning sector since 1948.
Caroline Marcus

GEM Chair
Rachel Tranter

GEM Director
years of connecting and learning together
Individual and Institutional Members across the UK and globally
In person and online delegates registered for GEM Conference 2023
"Good" or "Excellent"
satisfaction rate
GEM Conference 1988, the Burrell Collection
ICOM, set up by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (UNESCO) , established a committee in each member country, and in addition created seven specialist sections. Section 7 was titled Children's Museums and Activities.
The Children's Section of the International Committee of Museums in the UK
Journal of Education in Museums 1, published in 1980. The article entitled 'Museum education 1948 - 1963' was written by a previous GEM Chair Barbara Winstanley.

The year 1948 is also mentioned by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill in her comprehensive and readable history of museum education.
GEM was founded
The article reports on a meeting held of members of the Museums Association. 'The meeting was called for the purpose of organising a proposed Group of interested members who wish to co-operate and discuss some of the problems and methods used for children's work'.

The idea came from the Curator of Horsfall Museum, Mr Currall, and Sir Harry Lindsay. The aims were to hold two meetings a year, compile a Directory of Children's Activities in the British Isles and provide a newsletter for interested individuals.
Directory of Children's Activities in the British Isles
+ first newsletter
The appearance of two groups of individuals: members of the Museums Association (principally curators) and those from a broader educational world gathered together by Peter Floud (V&A and ICOM). After three years of discussions, the two groups amalgamated and became known as the Group for Children's Activities in Museums with Floud as Chair and Jacqueline Palmer as Secretary.
Peter Floud
Jaqueline Palmer
Group for Children's Activities in Museums
November 1949
25 June 1953

1st AGM, York
At least 42 participants took part in the AGM
AGM, Manchester
10th Anniversary of the GEM's foundation
"the Group, among other activities, arranges meetings at different centres in the country where there are well organised museum educational services, and from time to time holds conferences on topics related to the use of museums in education."
GESM worked alongside the Area Museum Councils (AMCs), for example in the South West concerning loans services. This was a particular area of expertise for many of the members who ran such services, e.g. Reading, Derbyshire and Cardiff. A small group was set up to look at creating a purchasing scheme to enable members to buy or order stock in bulk. Again GESM worked with the Midland AMC by contributing to a working party on the need for an education advisory panel.
Group for Education Services in Museums (GESM)

New Name:
At the beginning of the 1970s the Group involved with publications and surveys. The Department of Education and Science published "Pterodactyls and Old Lace" on the use of museums by schools and refers to the work of the Group.

The first reference to the regional groups and to the size of the Group as a whole (57 institutional members and 38 individual members).
Widening regional work
Institutional members
Individual members
GESM was keen to be involved with school curriculum matters and attended meetings with the Schools Council, which was looking at dynamic and innovative teaching methods and approaches.

One result of this work was the creation in 1979 of a CSE Mode 3 syllabus being set up at the National Portrait Gallery, with pupils preparing project work on the curatorial aspects
of gallery work as well as the collections themselves.

Influencing the school curriculum
Exploring the loan collections at GEM Conference 1960 in Reading
On a national level, the early |980s saw the political atmosphere changing, particularly on employment (or unemployment) issues. GEM contributed to the debate on Adult Unemployment and the setting up of MSC (Manpower Services Commission) schemes in museums and on archaeological and heritage sites. It rallied to the defence of members and their education services under threat such as Hereford and Worcester, Birmingham and Somerset.
Group for Education in Museums

New Name:
First edition of JEM, Journal of Education in Museums
Covers if JEM 1 – 26
Covers if JEM 27 – 42
Alison James was the Convenor of the Freelance Network. It had 60 members in October 1997. Various information sheets were published by GEM including : “Starting Out”, “Choosing a Museum Education Consultant” and “Insurance and Public Liability”. The group met at GEM conferences to network about such matters as fees, training, accounts, tax, marketing and liaised with a parallel group at the Museums Association where Rachel Hasted carried out research into the growing trend for employing freelancers and consultants in 1995. I don't know if either are still going .
GEM Freelance Network established
At the 1999 Annual General Meeting it was decided to move towards changing the organisation and constitution of GEM to a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. It was also agreed, in principle, to appoint a paid member of staff to undertake as yet to be specified duties for GEM. This was confirmed at the 2000 AGM, with Articles of Association and Memorandum approved.

Project groups established: Membership, Conference & Training, Area Convenors, Publications, Procedures
GEM became a charity
350 subscribers in a year since the launch.
GEM JiscMail established
From the GEM News:

The GEM Support Office (GSO) is now open and able to deal with:
  • Renewal of subscriptions
  • Applications from new members
  • Conference bookings
  • National Training Day bookings
  • Orders for Publications
  • Orders for ads and inserts in the eNews
  • Invoices and payments
  • General queries
First GEM Support Office (GSO) opened
First GEM Case Studies & eNews
First edition of GEM Case Studies, 2008
One to One Mentoring and free membership
To support the museum learning community during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic, GEM launched free membership for freelancers and a One to One mentoring programme, free for all members.

GEM launched a number of online training sessions and converted a lot of its courses in a virtual format
The Conference was attended by more than 250 delegates.
First hybrid GEM Conference 2022
GEM started its journey as an IPSO, supporting the museum learning sector, enabling dialogue and collaboration, and addressing challenges.
GEM – Arts Council's Investment Principles Support Organisation (IPSO)
Travel back in time: GEM Conferences 1988 & 1989
  •  Peter Divall FMA
    I joined both Group for Educational Services in Museums (GESM) and the Museum Association (MA) in the middle 70’s and still remain a member of both GEM and the MA. At the time I had no idea what impact GESM in particular would have on me, on my work, how involved I would become and how many museums I would visit and how many inspirational people I would meet.

    GESM had been around a few years before I joined.  Before that in 1948 a group of like-minded colleagues got together and met at Museums Association (MA) and International Committee of Museums (ICOM) meetings and set about planning for a focused independent Group to highlight the educational value of museums and museum services. That group went under the title of Group for Children’s Activities in Museums (GCAM) which then became GESM.

    Having attended some earlier Conferences my first big involvement was in 1980 when I was Conference Secretary/Organiser for the GESM Canterbury Conference. At the time I was, I recall, the only GESM member living and working in Kent so this was important event for Kent and its museum education profile. The support I received from GESM members Elizabeth Goodhew, Graham Carter, David Sorrell and Shirley Townend was invaluable. The Kent County Museum Service that I worked for was part of Kent County Council Education and Libraries and their support and enthusiasm was first class.
    The conference programme had a different ingredient to previous conferences, in that,  for one day delegates would be directly contributing to helping a museum without an education officer to set up a learning programme for their galleries. Delegates visited the museum in the morning, supplied with research resources over a working lunch then returned to the museum in the afternoon. Delegates swopped each other’s work and then tested it out with museum staff and then left their work and results with the museum.
    Another Conference ingredient that was different was the change of name from GESM to Group for Education in Museums (GEM).  Importantly it was the launch of the GEM Journal sponsored by Longmans Publications. A real turning point for GEM.

    Although I had met Barbara Winstanley (Derbyshire) I never got to know her but she was a real driving force in setting up the GCAM. I did however get to know Shirley Townend (Reading) founding member of the Group and had the pleasure of working with her on committee - a super lady so committed, so enthusiastic, a real champion of learning.
    In my early days with GEM for me the champions were Tom Dove (Lewes), David Sorrell (Derbyshire), Elizabeth Goodhew (Horniman), Graham Carter (Beaulieu), Vicky Airy (Bristol), Geoff McCabe (Shropshire), Eric Woodward (Wakefield), Louise Annand (Glasgow), Madeliene Mainstone (V&A).

    I was fortunate to be able to attend Conference on a regular basis from late 1973 through to 2018 and most recently 2023. I have been Committee Member, Publicity Co-Organiser, Area Convenor, Secretary for several years, Chair and Vice Chair and even GEM PO Box Operator. I was GEM Representative on the Museum Association Specialist Group and Area Museum Service for South East England (AMSSEE) Travelling Exhibition Panel and The Madeleine  Mainstone Trust.

    Over all of this time I met and got to know some terrific GEM members, real champions of museum learning, including  Stewart Coulter (Glasgow), Jem Frazer (Glasgow), Tony Stevens (Wakefield), Hazel Moffet (HMI), Gail Durban( V&A), John Reeve (BM), Vicky Woollard (Museum of London), Sue Wilkinson ( Tower of London), Andy Anderson (Ulster), John Gilmour (Ulster), Walter Jones (Cardiff), Rhian Thomas (Cardiff), Doug Ford (Jersey), David Mosely (National Railway Museum), John Stevenson (Science Museum), David Anderson (Brighton), Eileen Hooper Greenhill (Leicester), Nick Winterbotham (Great Yarmouth), Jane Middleton, (Chatham Dockyard) Lyn Ashton, (Guernsey) Katrina Siliprandi, (Norfolk), Paul Rees (Liverpool), Janita Bagshawe (Brighton), plus many, many other GEM colleagues.

    Attending GEM conferences opened up opportunities to see and meet colleagues from all over the UK and Abroad. Conference accommodation was often in universities or colleges leading to some late nights discussing issues in common rooms and the local pubs. GEM conference receptions/dinners etc, took place in some venues such as Royal Pavilion. HMS Victory, National Railway Museum, Stirling Castle, Mersey Ferry, Jesus College Oxford and Steam Railway in Leicester.

    I have fond memories of conference activities with GEM colleagues on the Giant Causeway (Northern Ireland), trying to control Welsh Coracles (Cardiff), cycling on the Island of Sark (Channel Islands) and Tom Dove’s sketch book.

    Attending GEM Conferences gave me a tour of the UK visiting places and museums and museum services in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Channel Islands all of which had staff who were constantly developing and delivering learning programmes under pressures of funding and staffing cuts and all the time GEM pressed on and as we see today gained strength and developed into the strong professional group we have today.
  • Stephen Allen
    First GEM Chair
    GEM has been an important part of my 30 year career in museums. I began my involvement with GEM in the early 1990s as a London convenor before joining the board. I was privileged to be GEM chair in 2001-2002. Some of my fondest memories were the conferences - especially the late nights! GEM is a great way to meet colleagues, share experiences, create networks and make friends. Happy 75th birthday and here's to the next 75.
  • Colin Mulberg FMA
    Director, Colin Mulberg Consulting, GEM News Editor 1997-2000
    My main memory with GEM is the constant fight for recognition of education, learning and engagement, pushing at boundaries and occasionally breaking barriers within our own institutions and across the sector. The reward was moving away from mainly looking inwards at collections to looking outwards towards a focus on visitors, showing how we could contribute and add value across departments - way beyond the stereotype of just dealing with school visits
  • Rachel Moss
    Freelancer for Arts Education & Evaluation
    I joined GEM around 1998 after gaining my first museum job following graduating from a Masters degree. I was based in a small museum located in Burnley away from my friends and family. Being earlier career and the first person in an education role there I had a lot to learn. GEM enabled me to build a network of peers, provided me with training and events, and gave me good advice and tips, which made me feel more secure in my new role. Since then I have always been a member of GEM, either institutional or personal and more recently as a freelancer. My professional development needs have changed over the years. Currently as a freelance member I find the Whatsapp group and online freelancer talks beneficial for checking in with other freelancers and helping to avoid the loneliness of being a freelancer. I also get contacted by other GEM members looking for freelancers via the GEM suppliers list and I am even working as a consultant for GEM! Thank you for your support and congratulations on turning 75 years old.
  • Pete Brown
    Museum and gallery access, learning & interpretation
    GEM has been a fixture in my working life ever since I realised I wanted to be a museum educator, way back in the 1990s. The professional guidance, training opportunities and above all the peer support have reminded me that we are a community of people who believe in the power of collections to inspire, to challenge and to enhance learning. As I’m always telling my Foundation Course participants, we’re not very good at shouting about the value of what we do – well perhaps the 75th anniversary is the ideal opportunity to do just that!
  • Francesca Chinnery
    Freelance educator
    I first heard of GEM at university when I was thinking about changing my career from teaching to working in heritage. I had gone to the university's library and tried to find any publications on museum learning but the only book they had was a GEM journal from the 1990's. It was the first time I had really realised that this was a real job I could do and that there were like minded people out there who had been doing some amazing work. I think that was possibly the pivotal point for me because within 1 month I had changed my degree and had begun an internship at my local museum. 10 years later, I have taken part in interesting training with GEM around different topics- accessibility, diversity, safeguarding, loans boxes etc. It has allowed me to link up with other sector professionals. Recently, I have had my case study published in Issue 30 and am one of the reps for GEM London- it feels a bit like a full circle moment!
  • Sarah Show
    Freelance Consultant
    As a Masters student in the mid 2000s, GEM was the bible for us. From the moment we arrived, we were told to sign up and I've reaped the benefits ever since. Starting out in the sector, the GEM journals opened my eyes to the diverse work that the sector was undertaking. It was here that the role of families in museums really came to the forefront for me, a move which has shaped my professional journey. GEM brought museums I could only dream of visiting into my student room, in articles which stuck with me throughout my career. Articles such as Dea Birkett's Everybody in? Museums and galleries from a family perspective stoked my imagination and it's been burning ever since! Your resources, events, conferences and programmes have shaped my career and have helped to spread the word of my specialism, families, across the sector. Happy 75th birthday GEM and I look forward to seeing what the next 25 years brings.
Wherever we are in the museum world, or on our own career journey, we need support. GEM has worked hard very hard at this - it has innovated remarkably with mentoring, and become a model for other organisations in this.
Letter from
John Reeve
Former GEM Chair & Editor of JEM

GEM is slightly older than me- it was still the Group for Education Services in Museums when I first encountered it in the early 1970s. Professionally I grew up with it - from innocent untrained museum education officer in York in the 1970s, learning from established fellow GEM members, to editor of JEM initially with Elizabeth Goodhew of the Horniman in the 1980s, and much later as chair. But I feel that GEM and its octopus like tentacles were reaching out to me even before I went into museum education for real. My trajectory was not that unusual: after a history degree that was totally text-based I trained as a teacher in Bristol and started to experiment with using museums and heritage sites. A key influence was Vicky Airey, former chair of GEM then at Bristol Museum, who we went to see on our PGCE course - I realised later that this was unusual in 1972! That was because Charles Hannam, our remarkable tutor, had a very generous view of what history education meant. We also used archives and the museum loan service. Persuading teacher trainers and education policymakers not least of the motivational impact of good museum gallery and heritage experiences is still a priority in my opinion; and also supporting especially the dwindling ranks of art and design teachers but also history teachers who are now an endangered species too. Other Bristol alumni include Hazel Moffatt energetic HMI for museum learning, and also the former head of the Schools Council who I later worked with on the Dearing review of the history curriculum and its inclusion of museums galleries and heritage. These were largely there in the original core curriculum as the result of the advocacy of people like Gail Durbin as a previous chair of GEM. It seems to me now as though we have been lobbying at local regional and national levels for ever and within the profession, attempting to repair the damage of successive Tory governments and reactionary [or cash-strapped] local councils and trustees. At least the media are a lot more interested in museums than they were in the 1970s and have largely stopped talking about dusty museums.

In the 1990s following the publication of A Common Wealth by David Anderson [then a museum educator and now retiring as a museum director] many of us felt as if we were part of joined up thinking about widening access and opportunity to enjoy and participate in all aspects of culture, for children, families and adults. We briefed ministers and national museum trustees. Yet here we are in 2023 fighting for all that once more against the forces of privilege and exclusion, indifference and philistinism.
When Vicky Woollard, Caroline Lang and I tried to capture momentous change in our world under Labour in ‘The Responsive Museum’ [Ashgate 2006] one of the contributors was Alec Coles, the director of Tyne and Wear museums. His response piece was ‘nothing new under the sun.’ Yes, radical museum innovation started with Henry Cole at the V&A and in Liverpool in the 19thc, but for museum education it crucially continued for example at the Geffrye Museum in east London [now the Museum of the Home] under Molly Harrison in the 1950s and 1960s, and in the county services like Leicestershire and West Yorkshire, often with significant loans services attached [where are they now?] The pioneering West Yorkshire education authority created Clarke Hall at Wakefield, an immersive 17thc experience for schools, for which many of us in local museum education departments prepared schools, and often accompanied them. The benefits of immersive learning of this kind had to be rediscovered. Looking at the history of GEM and museum education is often inspirational- look at JEM issues 1 and 19 for example.

In the early days of GESM and then GEM [50s to 70s] much of the energy in museum and gallery education and GEM came from fighting your corner [usually near the back door] arguing with curators, designers and directors, and also persuading indifferent teacher trainers, and sadly many teachers and advisers. As head of education at the BM in the 80s and 90s I had a lot of experience of this: ‘you people are good with small children and old ladies I guess’ was my welcome from Director David Wilson on arriving there in 1980, and ‘I don’t want Noddy labels in my museum.’ Eventually he changed his tune and became remarkably supportive- we argued but he accepted change had to happen and that we produced results. Teachers even in the 1980s might say that they went to the BM themselves as children- and were surprised it had changed, not least educationally. The national Curriculum from the late 1980s of course redrew the map of museum education overnight not least for us in national museums, and for GEM.

In the 1970s- 80s GEM encompassed both museum and gallery education. Then engage became the organisation for art gallery education and very successful it has been, not least in securing ACE funding [which GEM now has too] However that resulted in some narrowing of focus in both organisations? Over the last quarter century GEM has become healthier and more effective than ever, more diverse, self-critical and strategic, thanks to its committed trustees and directors, and the growing and ever more ambitious membership. It has innovated in training and resources and self-help through JISCMAIL, and become an effective advocate within the profession and beyond. Sadly many of the current issues are replays of earlier ones: funding, pay, career development, status and respect within the museum and the educational world; proof of impact and usefulness; basic arguments over access and communication- and room to experiment. As philistine governments cut arts and humanities education in state schools [but not in the private schools most of them were educated in], the need for constant restatement of value and impact as a core arts and humanities provider not just a complementary one, is exhausting and often feels soul destroying. As we all know, successful museum enterprise relies on healthy chemistry between interest groups within and outside the museum. An economic recession, a change of government, director, local council or key trustees can turn back the clock- I’ve seen this happen dramatically at least twice nationally and more often regionally and locally, and it’s still happening as museums close and services shrink. There’s even a major research project on just that.

Wherever we are in the museum world, or on our own career journey, we need support. GEM has worked hard very hard at this - it has innovated remarkably with mentoring, and become a model for other organisations in this. GEM is now much better networked internationally. Professional solidarity and guidance through an organisation like GEM is crucial and not just in the UK- its role during COVID showed that very clearly. It responds swiftly to the needs of the profession, not just of museum educators- for example on disability, de-colonisation ,anti-racism, climate meltdown. If politicians and faith leaders won’t take the lead then cultural workers have to. GEM relies on the time energy and commitment of very busy people. So here’s to the next 75 years and thank you to every one of you who helped us get to where we are now.

John Reeve
This project would not be possible without help and support from Nick Winterbotham, John Reeve, Vicky Woollard, Caroline Lang, Peter Divall and Stephen Allen. A special thank you to Miranda Yin, UCL Placement Student, for her work on the GEM archive.
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