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Ask the Expert Q&A, 8 April 2016: Confused by Accreditation? – by Helen Thornton

Helen Thornton, Yorkshire Regional Accreditation Advisor at Museum Development Yorkshire, will be answering your questions on Accreditation on Friday 8 April between 2-3pm GMT.

Helen Thornton is the Regional Accreditation Advisor for Yorkshire and specialises in registrar documentation and collections management areas. 

Confused by Accreditation?

Accreditation is the national UK standard for museums and galleries. It defines good practice and agreed procedures. It is useful to qualify under this scheme to become a recognised professional institution. This can help secure funding, develop partnerships, strengthen profiles and help to facilitate future loans of collection items.

So who is eligible to apply?

Accreditation is open to any establishment that qualifies under the Museum Association’s 1998 definition of a museum. That is they must allow people to explore, enjoy and learn from collections as well as having a responsibility to look after the objects. Establishments must have a long-term collection of artefacts, a formal constitution and be able to demonstrate at least two years of accounts. They must meet legal, ethical and safety requirements and be committed to future planning.

Where do I apply?

All applications are sent to and assessed by Arts Council England who run the Accreditation scheme. The Arts Council also run in partnership with CyMAL: Museum, Archives, Libraries Wales; Museums Galleries Scotland and the Northern Ireland Museum Council. You may remember this used to be administered by the MLA (Museum Libraries and Archive Service) until this was taken over by the Arts Council in 2011.


 The Application Process 

Applying for Accreditation or renewing existing applications can be both puzzling and daunting. At first the application form can seem over-whelming. The key is to break each section down and deal with it piece by piece to make the whole picture come together.

The form itself is divided into three areas, each with detailed accompanying notes guiding the user through the sub-sections. Taking on this much information can often be confusing and you may need help.

Where Can I get help?

I am the Regional Accreditation Advisor for Yorkshire.

My role is to assist museums and galleries in the Yorkshire area with their Accreditation applications and renewals. This can include guidance about technical issues with the form, or else specific queries about the procedures and policies needed for the application. I am also here to help if you are a first time applicant and need pointing in the right direction through the different application steps.

I have a background working in museums with a range of experience which spans 8 years. I specialise in registrar, documentation and collections management areas within a curatorial remit.

I will be available online on the 8th April at 2pm to answer any Accreditation queries you have.

Helen Thornton, Yorkshire Regional Accreditation Advisor.

Helen Thornton, will be answering your questions on Accreditation on Friday 8 April between 2-3pm GMT.

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 8 April, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry, we’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to [email protected]

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contact with us and let us know.

Your Comments

  1. Gillian Waters |

    Hi Helen,
    What would you say are the key benefits for a museum of being accredited?

  2. Rachel Wade |

    Dear Helen,

    What are the most common problems experience by museums seeking accreditation, and do you have any top tips on overcoming these?

    Best wishes,

    Rachel (York Museums Trust)

  3. Helen Thornton |

    Dear Gillian,
    Thank you for your question. Becoming accredited offers many long-term advantages both for the independent applicant and for participants as a whole. Becoming accredited acts as an instant professional ‘seal of approval’ and demonstrates that museums and galleries are adhering to recognised national working standards set by the Arts Council. This in turn can help in the future for private and public funding applications, negotiating loans and endorsing investors’ confidence. These standards also set a benchmark for museums which can then drive and help to develop future performance. Maintaining these standards also serves as a protection for museums to justify and align their relevance and position within the heritage environment. Becoming accredited also makes institutions aware of their users’ needs and how to target and develop these.
    In essence becoming accredited helps to develop partnerships, raises profiles, justifies support and sets professional standards.


  4. Helen Thornton |

    Dear Rachel, good question! I would say the most common pitfall is the application process itself. Some museums and galleries are often not sure how to become registered and accredited.
    I would say read up on the process first. All information is available on the Arts Council website:


    There are a series of publications under the ‘guidance documents’ section which are invaluable to the application and must be read in conjunction with this. Understanding these guidelines is absolutely essential and key to the whole process.
    Museums must partake in an eligibility questionnaire first to see if they are a suitable candidate to go for accreditation. Once the questionnaire has been submitted and accepted by the Arts Council, then the approved institute has twelve months to submit their first application which is done online through an application portal:


    If the applicant has become familiar with navigating through the accreditation sections on the Arts Council website then this tends to make the whole process a lot clearer.
    In addition each area of the UK is assigned an advisor, like myself, who is available to offer guidance and support throughout processes.
    So I think once the applicants have mastered the technical side of this, they have usually overcome the main issues!

  5. Michael |

    Hi Helen,

    My museum is already Accredited and submitted a return in 2013. What areas have changed since my last return?


  6. Gillian Waters |

    @History_Doctor says “often the costs outweigh the gains, especially for smaller sites. The AAM is way out of step on this”.

  7. Helen Thornton |

    Dear Michael,
    The most recent change since your last return is that a new Arts Council website has been launched. I would recommend taking a bit of time to become familiar with the new navigation system. This has been created to make the website smart phone and tablet friendly.


    In addition the existing guidelines are reviewed annually by the Arts Council. Having completed a 2013 return, you will be aware that the online application system was launched in 2011. This did not meet ambitions for a streamlined application system so the process was revised again in September 2014. The key changes have been:
    • Museums completing a return can tailor the form to only ask questions where there has been change since the last assessment.
    • All questions have been rewritten with a focus on plan English.
    • All questions have been reconsidered to ensure we are only asking what is necessary to support an informed assessment.
    The Collections Development Policy has also been updated and you will need to complete this using the new format. This can be found under the Guidance Documents section on the Arts Council website.


  8. Helen Thornton |

    Thanks for your comment. The UK system tries very hard to incorporate both smaller and larger museums into the Accreditation scheme. It has different ways to assess and measure the requirements depending on size, staff numbers and revenue. All institutions should assess whether Accreditation is appropriate for them wherever they are located.

  9. Annette French |

    A great idea for feedback Helen! My top tips (I’m an assessor!) are read the guidance, don’t forget signed approvals and do let us know any progress updates against any award recommendations last time. Oh and we might ask lots of questions but only because we want museums to do well!

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