University of Cambridge Museums (UCM)

Using Arts Award to engage young people in museum collections

Arts Award level: Discover, Explore, Bronze, Silver, Gold

Models: Embedded across the learning and participation programmes

Participants: Children and young people

Partners: Cambridgeshire County Council Participation Team, Home Educators, Schools throughout Cambridgeshire


At the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM), Arts Award has long been an embedded part of how they provide inspiring and innovative encounters between diverse young people and their diverse collections. UCM is a consortium of the 8 University Museums and the Botanic Garden, working together as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and committed to providing quality cultural learning opportunities for children and young people across their region.

The UCM collections include paintings by Monet and Picasso, biological and geological specimens collected by Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton’s notebooks, artefacts collected on Captain Cook’s voyages, local archaeological and natural history collections, and meteorites and moon rock from beyond our planet.

A major benefit of Arts Award is its flexibility, and over the years The UCM has delivered it in a variety of formats with a variety of groups from ‘Discover in a Day’ as part of family drop-in and intensive Bronze in a week as a school holiday offer, to term-long extended Bronze projects or Silver delivered over the course of a year with our Museum Ambassadors.

Arts Award can play a part in recognising and celebrating the achievement of learners who might be having a less positive experience of school, or consolidating and enrich in-school achievements. Often, young people surprise themselves and their teachers or participation workers with what they achieve.

UCM Arts Award projects include:

  • Young parents
  • Young people with disabilities / additional needs
  • Young people in mental health settings
  • Family programmes
  • Individual learners
  • Schools
  • Looked After Children
  • Home educated young people

Case study: Looked After Children

Since 2013, the UCM have worked with Cambridgeshire County Council Participation Team to support Looked After Children to enjoy being creative in the museums. Young people build from short taster activities to a week-long Bronze Arts Award project during school holidays. The objectives for the project are planned with the participation team and include developing skills, confidence, communication and leadership, as well as recognizing that the museums are a place for them.

Case study: Home educated young people

Arts Award is popular with home educating families in Cambridgeshire, as it provides a balance of structure and flexibility which suits their needs and preferences. There is an opportunity to mark progression over the years through the various Arts Award levels, and the UCM are proud that some of the home educated young people they have worked with have achieved Gold. The young people are able to bring their own existing interests and activities into the mix, taking inspiration for the museum but making connections with their wider cultural activities.

Case study: Schools

Arts Award plays an important part in the UCM strategic partnership work with schools – particularly their work to ensure young people from areas and backgrounds less likely to access the museums independently build a strong sense that these are places for them, where they can be creative, show leadership and develop relevant skills.

Every child in Year 7 at one of the UCM partner schools achieves Discover as part of a museum museum programme to create positive experiences around this key transition from primary to secondary. The celebration event at the museum at the end of the autumn term when the pupils return with their families to receive their certificates is a highlight of the year.

With other schools, the UCM's focus in on students in receipt of Pupil Premium Funding. These enrichment projects are structured around achieving a Bronze Arts Award, and support them to engage with and achieve in art, but also English and history.

They saw the project through from beginning to end over a year. They developed resilience when making decisions about what to include. They shared ideas and had to decide what made the book and what didn’t. They don’t normally get to do that in school. I saw an increase in confidence and resilience. They’re so proud of what they achieved and surprised that they managed it.

- Teacher from a partner school


  • Be clear about desired outcomes for children and young people and how Arts Award will contribute to those
  • Think of collections as starting points for creativity, no matter what the collection type
  • Don’t underestimate the power of setting a challenge and celebrating achievement
  • Use Arts Award as a way to structure young people feeling ownership of your museum
  • Learn from others – there is lots of inspiring practice out there and no need to reinvent the wheel