Education officer, Chatsworth

 8 February 2011

Claire Fowler is Education Officer at Chatsworth, a historic estate in the Peak District, and the Bolton Abbey estate in North Yorkshire. The landscapes vary greatly: from the stately home collection, to a garden, park, moorland, river and farmyard.

Claire Fower is Chatsworth's Education Officer.
Claire Fower is Chatsworth's Education Officer.

The job of an education officer

"My responsibilities include developing educational resources for families and schools, things like guided tours, curriculum-based resources, activities for schools, workshops, teacher packs. Also developing interpretation material for general visitors, including guide books, audio guide tours, family trails.

"I’m responsible for marketing to the schools audience, so trying to develop that audience. We develop all sorts of promotional materials and hold open days with teachers consulting them on works for them in order to make visits good value for money and as helpful for schools as possible.

"I train tour guides and room guides who are visitor-facing members of staff, so they have lots of knowledge about the history and the collection to pass on to visitors. This includes coordinating a team of volunteers who have a role in the visitor welcome team.

"Finally, I also have to stay on top of educational initiatives happening around the country, so a bit of travelling around to conferences to ensure I am constantly improving and moving forward."

Working with young people

“Knowledge of education and learning is more important than knowledge of the place where you would be working."

"We offer a variety of activities for young people. Activities that go down well are hands-on and kinetic – kids really respond when the they get the chance to touch things

"We do ‘behind the scenes’ tours, including a World War II theme tour. Back in the second world war there were 250 school pupils who lived at Chatsworth. They had been evacuated and we have created an experience where the visiting school group can go to the cellars where the children sought refuge during air raids, look around rooms where the children would live and study and see archive footage of them.

"Another popular event is our annual open days for primary schools. Children get to meet all the people who maintain the estate, for example the forestry department. The staff explain what they do giving the children an awareness of jobs they might not hear about otherwise.

"I coordinate long term projects when a group will come spend lots of time with us, perhaps over summer holidays. Last year we had a project that resulted in the production of a book and DVD, made entirely by the young people."

A career in cultural heritage

"One highlight is the job is so varied, I don’t have a chance to get bored!"

"Another is the 'Beyond Limits' exhibition, organised by Sotheby's. It’s a contemporary sculpture exhibition, now in third year. Sothebys use Chatsworth garden as a show room – for them it’s a selling exhibition, for us it's wonderful because all these world-class sculptures by artists like Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Gormley, Salvador Dali – they're all in the garden for seven weeks.

"We have so many school groups in that time and kids, especially from inner cities or deprived rural areas, don’t separate the contemporary exhibition from the rest of the Chatsworth experience. You see them being really overwhelmed by the house, gardens and these incredible sculptures.

"Because I am here to coordinate the educational offer, I don’t often deliver activities on the ground so when I do see the kids in action, that probably is the best bit of the job."

How to start in cultural heritage

“Top tip: Work very hard and be prepared to try absolutely anything!”

"Before I worked at Chatsworth I was a visitor assistant at the Weston Park museum in Sheffield. It was a front-of-house role, not office-based and it was my first job since graduating.

"I did a history degree – that’s what led me into the museums heritage sector. I also gathered a lot of teaching experience; I have dance teaching qualifications along with various part time/temporary classroom assisting jobs."

"For somebody interested in heritage education, it’s hard to offer advice – there so many different ways to get into this sector. I would say the knowledge of education and learning is more important than knowledge of the place where you would be working.

"To have an in-depth knowledge of the Chatsworth art collection was not required for my role. More important was being able to link into the national educational climate, and to be able to take what Chatsworth has and convey it to an educational audience."

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