With keeping schools open a huge priority for the government as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the education team from The JORVIK Group of attractions has launched a host of packages and resources so that school children around the country can continue to enjoy a vibrant history curriculum, even if they are not able to leave the classroom.
“School visits to museums and attractions all over the country have been hugely impacted by the pandemic, with many schools postponing trips that they’d normally take over the autumn/winter period,” comments Frances Bennett, interpretation and engagement manager for The JORVIK Group. “We were delighted to welcome our first school groups back for visits to JORVIK Viking Centre earlier last month, with measures in place to support and maintain the group’s ‘bubble’ so we could offer a safe, fun visit.”
The new lockdown – which requires visitor attractions to close – means that school visits cannot happen for the next four weeks, but the team has been working hard behind the scenes at Barley Hall and DIG: An Archaeological Adventure, as well as JORVIK Viking Centre, to create a host of other packages that will help the education team to engage with schools both virtually and with resource packs for hire.
Indeed, the team has been running virtual outreach sessions – across various platforms, including Zoom, Google Meet, V-Scene and Skype – for a few years, and this has now been extended to cover even more of the curriculum, from primary through to GCSE-level studies, covering subjects from Roman archaeology to Viking warriors and medieval medicine. The cross-curricular sessions integrate literacy, science and other areas alongside the same history curriculum areas as conventional school visits to JORVIK, Barley Hall and DIG: An Archaeological Adventure.
“We have also looked at how we can use different technologies to deliver the sessions so that we can continue to support our schools even if a whole year group is isolating – and this will come into play now, enabling us to continue to operate Virtual Outreach whilst our attractions are closed, and we have increased capacity so that we can now work with three schools at any one time,” adds Fran. “To support social distancing for the historic interpreters that are taking part, we have sets and green screen facilities within Monk Bar – where The Richard III Experience would normally operate – to create self-contained studios for the sessions.”
With all school trips now on hold until December at the earliest, the team has created loan boxes of artefacts and replica items that teachers can borrow, whilst for those further afield, a huge number of online resources are available to download, including teachers’ packs and videos highlighting lots of different parts of the work by York Archaeological Trust, the charity which operates the JORVIK Group. ‘Discover from Home’ activities on the JORVIK website (www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk) also encourage independent learning, ideal for home schooling or extension activity.
Whilst nothing will replace the sound of happy children seeing, hearing and smelling Viking-age York within JORVIK Viking Centre itself, or medieval York at Barley Hall, the extended outreach programmes do provide an opportunity for more distant schools to take advantage of the huge range of expertise available from the education team. Similarly, whilst most sessions would be delivered live – enabling a degree of interaction between the presenter and the remote classroom – sessions can also be pre-recorded, making them ideal for venues with a less-than-perfect internet connection.
The development of the Virtual Outreach programme has been undertaken with support from a number of charities, including The Skipton Building Society Charitable Foundation, The Kirkby Foundation, The Whitwam Family Charitable Foundation, York Common Good Trust, Holbeck Charitable Trust, Friends of York Archaeological Trust and supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
“This support has been absolutely invaluable, particularly supporting the purchase of the technology required to deliver these programmes, and through helping fund the education team who otherwise would have been furloughed whilst school visits were on hold,” says director of attractions, Sarah Maltby. “Now they are set up and ready to be delivered, hosting virtual outreach sessions will keep our team busy over the coming months when numbers passing through the attraction are inevitably lower than we would expect in a normal year. The attractions and museums sector is under huge pressure to cut overheads at the moment; this will help us retain our skilled team of interpreters and educators.”