The city is seen as an ideal location for the ‘significant’ heritage site as it is already steeped in historical attractions with the added benefit of being a destination visited by thousands of people every year and with its own top-ranking university.
Portsmouth was also the proud home of John Pounds, the teacher and altruist responsible for the concept of Victorian ‘ragged schools’, which provided free tuition in reading, writing and maths for poor children.
A team of trustees has been working up a delivery plan since 2017 and has raised £140,000 out of an initial funding stream of £250,000 to kickstart the project. It is now actively searching for a location in the city.
The project has the backing of Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan, a trustee and Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister.
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At an event at the House of Commo ns he hosted to celebrate reaching the half-way point of the funding target, he told The News: ‘This is a significant museum that will not only make a real difference to our city but also tell a brilliant story of education in our country.
‘There are already some brilliant museums in the city and it will be another draw to open the nation’s first education museum in Portsmouth, not least adding to the cultural offering we pride ourselves with. It is outrageous that we don’t have a museum like this in our country and it is so exciting that it is going to come to Portsmouth.’
The aim of the museum is to celebrate the ‘record of remarkable achievements in education’ and the ‘commitment to teaching and learning’ which has been a significant part of the nation’s culture over many centuries.
The National Education Museum trust’s vision adds: ‘It will inform and fascinate and it will entertain. It will provide its visitors, in person and online, with fond memories and with some amusement about long-abandoned practices. Then, there will be so much more. Adopting the exciting ideas of a 21st century museum, we will also aim to educate, to add to understanding of purpose and by doing so to stimulate a new consensus about the values of education for our children and of lifelong learning.’
The museum has been the dream of Hank Roberts since the 1970s, a former president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union who grew up in Portsmouth. But it took a giant leap forward in 2017 when the ATL merged with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to create the National Education Union with more than 450,000 members.
With 280 years of history between them, the spotlight was thrown on a vast archive of records and artefacts in the cupboards, cellars and libraries of the two unions and their branches throughout the country.
Mr Roberts said: ‘I first had the idea about the need for a National Education Museum many years ago but only recently got this going with a group of like-minded people. Having widened our base of support, we are making real progress. When speaking at meetings to raise funds and awareness, the positive response has been very heartening.
‘The museum will be a place not only to learn the history of education, and to share scientific ideas and developments for its future, but also to intrigue and delight children who visit.’
He added: ‘Our ambitions are high but our strategy is planned and measured. We are taking one step at a time and the major focus is getting premises in Portsmouth. John Pounds started his ragged school movement in the city, so where better to trace out the history of education?’
Other trustees include Amanda Martin, former city teacher and past president of the National Education Union, and Catherine Carroll-Meehan, a director of the University of Portsmouth Academy Trust. Patrons include former Education Secretary Baroness Morris, physicist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili and children’s author and broadcaster Professor Gervase Phinn.
Trustees are hoping that other people will now want to get involved – from sharing memories and artefacts, to spreading the word, to becoming a donor. The £250,000 set as a target will be used to acquire suitable premises for offices and displays, to collect, itemise and catalogue artefacts and records and to secure the long-term growth and sustainability of the museum. It is hoped that the opening of a site, even with an initial scaled-down range of facilities, will take place by December 2023.
Anne Swift, chair of trustees and former president of the NUT, said: ‘This is an exciting national project. Nothing like it exists. We want to celebrate ideas people have had and steps they have taken to make education for all a priority.
‘We need donations – no matter how large or small, it all helps. Even if we find premises that is only open at weekends, at least we are underway – we can grow from there.’
Mr Morgan added: ‘A National Education Museum will be an important celebration of the power education has to change lives. Education is limitless, so it’s vital we have an institution that tells its story of progress for future generations.
‘There are lots of ways people can get involved. They can share information about the project online, they can check out the website and ultimately they can give money to make sure this fantastic initiative isn’t just a dream but becomes a reality for the people of Portsmouth and our country.’