Eight months after launching Learn Together Cymru, Volunteering Matters confirms that the project is on course to meet its ambitious targets – of recruiting 450 new volunteers to support 21,000 pupils in their learning over three school years.
Already the team has handled enquiries from 142 potential volunteers, carried out reference and police checks for 58 new volunteers, established working links with strategic partners and volunteer centres in all local authorities, run several training days and placed 34 new volunteers in schools around Wales.
The Big Lottery Fund funded project builds on Volunteering Matters’ 50+ years of experience of supporting learning and the 500 Volunteering Matters’ reading volunteers already in place in Welsh primary schools. It responds to demand from schools for support in other subject areas, as well as from secondary schools, after school clubs and professionals in community and family learning, especially in areas where basic skills levels are poor.
Learn Together Cymru targets older volunteers – aged 50+ years – although it is expected that some will be younger people too. They are given basic training in schools volunteering, literacy development, numeracy resources and child protection. But they capitalize on their existing social skills and life experiences to make connections with pupils that help them develop the basics they will need for learning. As well as listening to the pupils read, volunteers may be with a class which is measuring or drawing, cooking or growing in the garden. They take their lead from the teaching staff, who oversee all activities, and support the teachers’ efforts to embed literacy and numeracy into all subjects.
Partners in the project – Save the Children Wales, BookTrust Cymru, the Regional School Effectiveness & Improvement Service for North Wales, Welsh Libraries, Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services, WEA Cymru – are helping the team to target areas and schools needing support and providing resources and spaces for learning activities, plus expertise and training.
One to one volunteer support is an effective intervention. The project’s impact on pupil attitudes and reading age is being measured whenever schools consent. Volunteering Matters’ previous schools project contributed to an average 20+ gain in reading age in addition to chronological age gain, as one of a number of interventions.
“The only thing slowing us down right now,” said Project Manager Teresa Walters, “Is our initial contact with schools. They’re such busy places and it’s difficult to find a teacher or administrator who has time to listen to us explain how the project works. We’re trying to make strategic links with teaching professionals so that they know who we are when we call them to say ‘we have a volunteer in your area’.”
If your school could benefit from a volunteer, or you are part of a network through which the project could be promoted, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.