History of Science Museum and Iffley Academy unveil co-curated mini-museum display at the school

Boy pointing to museum display

Yacine presenting at unveiling 2 (c) Ian Wallman

Pupils and staff from Dali Class at The Iffley Academy (Part of The Gallery Trust) have unveiled a mini-museum at the school co-curated with a team from Oxford University’s History of Science Museum (HSM), including its Director Dr Silke Ackermann.

The Academy is for children and young people with complex special educational needs and disabilities. Since 2016, the University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GL&M) have collaborated with staff and students from the Oxford-based school to co-develop a programme of creative learning opportunities and project work based around the University’s collections.

The exhibition, ‘Curious about Calculation’, features a number of mathematics-based instruments in a museum standard display case including a Chinese abacus, Lightning Adding Machines, and a Britannic Calculating Machine from the HSM who are also loaning the display case long- term.

Wall panels and labels were co-created in an ‘Easy Read’ style which presents text in an accessible, easy to understand layout. It is a widely-acclaimed method of inclusive explanation and interpretation and increasingly adopted by museums and galleries to help people with learning difficulties and also for those with other conditions that affect how they process information.

The students also extended the exhibition to their classroom illustrating all the additional knowledge absorbed and research undertaken to deliver ‘Curious about Calculation’, including interviewing Dr Ackermann. This allowed other pupils from the Academy to benefit by visiting and participating in hands on presentations given by Dali Class. 

The Iffley Academy Partnership is led by the University’s GL&M Arts Engagement officer Miranda Millward and senior staff at the school. As Miranda explains: “It’s designed to familiarise students with cultural venues in an accessible way and then facilitate their participation in creative projects. Previously, we have worked successfully with the Ashmolean’s Pompeii and the Bodleian’s North Sea Crossing exhibitions. And we plan to continue the programme with other GL&M venues to co-curate exhibitions with Iffley Academy along different themes.”

“For this particular project, Dali Class were first introduced to the HSM through virtual walk-throughs of the museum and objects being brought into the school. This enabled the students to familiarise themselves with the museum and the collections in a supportive environment. Guided visits then followed, often outside of general public opening hours, led by HSM’s Learning Producers Helen Pooley and Christopher Parkin, who had already spent time at the Academy getting to know the students.

“Following their visit, the students undertook a range of creative workshops to design and organise their own exhibition, with Private Views scheduled and attended by the other students as well as members of the wider school community.”

People looking at exhibition

Yacine shows visitors around Dali Classroom exhibition (c) Ian Wallman

Dali Class Form Teacher Mrs James said: “I am incredibly proud of how the class worked together with the University to co-curate ‘Curious about Calculation’. The excitement, the enthusiasm – and the squabbles – have made it a really enjoyable classroom experience.

“Watching the students interact with the objects, relate to their purpose and the stories they tell has been hugely rewarding. To see them discuss and decide what to select or reject, how to display, present and label the exhibition with the support and advice of Dr Ackermann and her team has engaged the class throughout and given us all a much greater understanding and appreciation of what museums do.”

Dali Class pupil Yacine talked through the objects on display at the unveiling last week in front of an audience including Dr Ackermann, Miranda and the key staff and pupils involved from HSM and Iffley Academy.

“We liked an old Chinese abacus with its place value columns. It can count really big numbers and we set it to one million. We put it next to a modern-day classroom abacus with each row showing the different ways you can make ten. We put two Lightning Adding Machines into the case – one assembled, one not, to reveal how it works inside. It was made and used in the USA as two of the dials say ‘dollars’ and ‘cents’.

“We placed the Britannic Calculator on a special block to show it off better. Someone at school recognised that their grandmother had used one of these. It has a handle and lots of levers and we found it sometimes get stuck!”


Old Chinese Abacus (c) Ian Wallman

Dr Silke Ackermann, who cut the ribbon along with Iffley Academy Deputy Head Charlotte Roberts, said:

“It’s so exciting to finally see ‘Curious about Calculation’ in real life after several months of collaboration. We all learnt so much from co-curating with Dali Class and how they responded to visiting the HSM, researched the subject and related to the objects. In so doing they have created an incredibly accessible and inclusive display that informs and asks questions of the visitor.

“This display is of a very high standard, a direct result of great teamwork - and exactly how we want all museum exhibitions to be. We are delighted that we will have an opportunity to continue to work with Iffley’s students and involve them in focus groups as we develop plans for the future of HSM.”

Tom Procter-Legg, Head Teacher, Iffley Academy, added: “This project has made a significant and sustained impact on both the school as a whole, individual teachers and on students. It has been recognised as an essential vehicle for school improvement and we look forward to continuing to work with Oxford’s Gardens, Museums and Libraries on similar projects to inspire our students.”

Since the Iffley School Partnership was established, over 300 students have achieved an Arts Award qualification and a greater understanding of potential careers within the cultural sector.

Last September, Iffley Academy celebrated receiving a prestigious Artsmark Platinum Award in recognition of the school’s outstanding provision and contribution to arts education. This is the highest arts award afforded to schools by the Arts Council and Iffley Academy was only one of six schools in the country in 2021 to receive a Platinum Award.

Find out more about Iffley Academy Partnership


Top image: Iffley Academy & HSM Display Case -  Dali Class Form Teacher Mrs Daphne James (left) with HSM Director Dr Silke Ackermann (c) Ian Wallman