There has been some rather alarming news recently about increases in the number of volunteers being taken on in schools, some being used for key roles that would normally be filled by a paid professional.
Many schools, especially smaller schools with extremely tight budgets, have always relied on the contribution made by volunteers, usually parents, for reading or special projects like cooking, artwork, field study and school trips, along with fund raising events like school fetes, fairs and productions.
It has been traditional for schools to use parents for activities that wouldn’t be possible without extra help. For example, it would be impossible for a teacher to hear every child read every day, or to spend time discussing it with the children, both of which develops their skills. In this way volunteers have given children invaluable extra adult time that teachers cannot within a busy class environment. So the assistance of volunteers in the form of another ear, a conversation, or pair of crafting hands has always been invaluable. And most parents would be happy for their child to be thus supported by volunteers.
However it was recently reported that an academy’s trust has gone a step further advertising for volunteers to fill more professional roles, in finance or administration in this case, without pay, and to do hours more in line with an employee.
And it raises the question as to whether this is just the start of schools becoming increasingly dependent on unpaid staff in order to run the school effectively. It’s worrying to think that this may become more commonplace and where it might lead.
It also illustrates the fact that schools are drastically under funded. And in order to function effectively are having to rely on filling positions, which should be financed, by volunteers.
After reading the report one primary head had this to say; “Once volunteers begin to be the norm the government will wheedle out of financing schools properly. Volunteers are brilliant for reading and craft with small groups, which the teacher would love to do but can’t manage the time. Volunteers enhance the creative aspects of education which subsequent governments have killed off. But that’s it! I’m appalled that a Trust would even think of giving other important jobs to volunteers.”
Having volunteered within the health service, where it was made clear that my role would never undertake the work of an employee, it inevitably did because, as we all know from regular reports, the health service is shockingly understaffed and under financed.
Is there now a danger of this scenario being repeated in schools?
The Education Policy Institute reports increasing numbers of unpaid staff in classes and believes this constitutes an ongoing threat towards the quality of the provision.
Volunteers make invaluable contributions to many of our services. But it has always been understood that this has been for non-professional roles only and they have only added value by supporting already existing staff. It would never be expected that volunteers would undertake roles which would normally involve training – and pay.
Is the government now expecting this ‘free’ labour, masking the fact that there is a serious funding issue with many of our services?
It would be interesting to hear parents’ responses to this. (Do comment below) And how you feel about unpaid (and supposedly untrained) volunteers becoming more prevalent in our schools.