Friday is one of my favourite days of the week. As soon as I drop off the children at school, I go to the reception, sign myself in, wear my badge and head for the Year 6 classroom. I am a parent volunteer at my children’s school and work with a small group of gifted and talented children. I help with Maths and I am one of the thousands of parents who volunteer in British schools.
For many years schools in the UK have been welcoming parents to help teachers with art and craft projects, reading, as well as accompanying classes on trips. Parents are indeed an invaluable resource, but have teachers really taken advantage of the variety of skills and expertise modern parents possess?
As someone who spends on average 20 minutes a day on the playground, what strikes me is the variety of talent and skills at the school gates – mothers that work part time or are on career breaks, who have PhDs or masters, invaluable experience in literacy agency and creative writing, run small and innovative businesses, are former accountants and ICT specialists. Surely schools could benefit from that expertise.
Particularly these days, with the teachers struggling to manage big classes of 30 children while at the same time teaching pupils with a wide range of abilities and skills, schools need all the help they can get. Parents can be part of the solution.
As a former astrophysicist, holding a PhD and having years of experience as a researcher and then science communicator, teaching level 6 maths to a group of Year 6 pupils is a wonderful experience. I have to confess that working with the children, watching them learn and making sense of numbers and their meaning is the highlight of my week. I really enjoy it and have a good relationship with the class teacher. I firmly believe that many parents would feel the same. Only if the schools could think strategically about how to engage high-skilled parents and encourage them to volunteer.
So for a start here are some thoughts on how schools could establish and support a network of parent volunteers.
- Some parents may not be aware of parent volunteer opportunities. So a Call for Parents is published in the weekly newsletter on a regular basis to remind parents that they can offer their skills to the benefit of the children.
- Every term, class teachers send out notes to parents detailing the expertise they require to support their teaching and their pupils.
- In the beginning of the year, schools run introductory talks about parent volunteering, explaining the benefits of parental involvement in the children’s education as well as the difference they can make in a child’s learning.
- Schools create a registry of skills, where parents enter their skills and qualifications. Alternatively or additionally schools produce a wish list of skills and invite parents to sign up.
- Parents may be intimidated by the prospect of being in a classroom. Provide some basic training to explain what the role of a parent volunteer is. Have in place a shadowing scheme, where interested parents are shadowing a teacher or volunteer for a day or two.
- Last but not least, train the teachers on how to work with parent volunteers. Remember that parents do not have qualifications or experience in teaching. They probably do not know how to plan a tutoring session, so give them all the support they need.
What are your thoughts? Are you a parent volunteer? I would love to hear your experiece.