Working with volunteers

I have been musing on the fact that schools are dependent on two groups of volunteers to maximise attainment and how schools can work with these people more effectively and show real appreciation. After all one cannot hire and fire governors or parents so it behoves us to collaborate and celebrate.

Parents working effectively with their children can increase educational attainment by as much as 30% says Professor DesForges and Lord Adonis is adamant that good governance is a prerequisite for a good school. They are not lone voices.  So how do we engage better with these vital volunteers as we seek to build a world class education system.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking at a conference for teachers on Parental Engagement run by Impact in Learning.  I could endorse the importance of the topic and give excellent examples of it working to the benefit of children but had to admit  in some areas of significant disadvantage,  they are conspicuously lacking.  Why would you go to your child’s school if your own experience had been less than positive and left you with skills that did not match the needs of employers.

As for governors,  the largest volunteer force in the country, we have some 24000 schools in this country,  how can we possibly expect as many ‘good’ governing bodies? Yet as things stand we must.   Despite being committed to their school and caring for the needs of children and staff,  boards vary in composition and skills and many cannot be expected to hold the leadership team to account as they should.

The answer must be to make the importance of these groups and their role in raising standards very plain. Also to celebrate and give exemplars of good practice wherever possible on websites, articles, twitter and more.

For Parental Engagement do we stress ways to achieve this in ITT courses?  Are Teaching Schools exploring it?  There is good practice albeit thinly spread.   I have seen:

  • Evening courses in IT, English, languages and Maths free to parents
  • Saturday lessons in maths for parents and children (run by the RI in one example)
  • HW done on line by parents and children together
  • Parent evenings at every time of day to accommodate flexible childcare.
  • Texting/emailing –  communicating regularly
  • Celebration evenings monthly/termly

I have supported Frank Field’s idea of a different easily remembered 5 a day: give your child breakfast, get to school on time, read with them, talk to them, insist on regular bedtime.  The important thing is to focus parents’ contribution on academic work not as in some cases on fund raising.  Secondary staff are recognising it is for them to engage as much as their primary colleagues.

How about our army of governors who give up their time and take on an ever increasing role and set of responsibilities?  Ofsted is inspecting governance which provides the stick but much more important is the carrot.. How can we ensure advice is more than on websites which busy governors probably do not have time to read.  How can every school ensure face to face induction on all matters is provided by the leadership team and the chairman?   Governors in my experience,  and I am on two boards myself and counting,  are committed, caring and seek to do their best.  However we need greater understanding of how to hold the head to account as he/she is supported.  What are the right questions to challenge the senior staff.  As a head,  I reported to a Board that oversaw 6 schools in SE London.   Federations are increasingly common. It worked. 

Good supportive yet challenging governors are valued by heads and vital to schools.  We see discussion about paying them.  Perhaps there is a case to pay the Chair?  But budgets are tight.  There are excellent organisations like SGOSS which has a database and the NGA or Ten Governor Support which provide advice and sample questions.  Chairs can now be qualified as National Leaders which is raising the profile and the esteem.  They are increasingly being recognised through honours system.  I was sorry to miss an event at the House of Commons last week to award individuals delivering excellent governance.  Twitter does its bit too.  All these are right but are they getting to every school and board.

Collaboration is the answer on many levels.  Support from business is vital in letting staff off for parents evenings or for governors meeting.   Being a governor is good CPD.  

Volunteers are vital in supporting our profession and our children, to closing the gap and delivering the very best to every young person in our schools.  Lets keep praising the good practice and coming up with more ways to encourage participation.

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