A successful partnership in the charity sector is helping schools engage with families in new ways. Volunteering Matters’ project Learn Together Cymru is working with schools to train parents and carers as class room volunteers to support pupils with their reading and other basic skills.
Learn Together Cymru, a three year pan-Wales Big Lottery funded intergenerational project, aims to recruit 450 new volunteers, who will in turn support 21,000 pupils. It targets primarily the over 50s and recruits a good volume of retired professionals, who bring the gifts of life experience and wisdom as well as warmth, patience and the time to listen and who, in turn report huge gains in community involvement and well-being. However, the project team also aims to bring the positive impacts of volunteering to people of all ages who are seeking employment-related skills or purposeful activity in the community, and focusses on schools in areas facing the greatest economic challenges – exactly where school volunteers are hardest to attract!
Through their partnership with Save the Children, who work intensively in the same target areas via their Families and Schools Together programme, Learn Together Cymru has developed new relationships with school heads and Community Liaison Officers seeking greater school engagement with families. For the schools, the project offers them the potential of a group of volunteers and parents/carers who are skilled up and confident to support pupils with what they are learning in school.
“We are delivering training sessions which help parents better understand how literacy is learned and how to use number games and resources to support Maths,” explains Project Manager Teresa Walters, “and it also covers issues around child protection, confidentiality and mutual respect. We stress that volunteers don’t need to be teachers and that their role is to listen, not to teach. The parents say they are feeling much more confident about helping out – both in class and with homework”
So far this year, Learn Together Cymru has trained 43 parents from 7 schools in South Wales and the Valleys, in addition to volunteers recruited through more traditional routes, and has a growing waiting list for school training sessions. The service is free to schools and includes DBS and reference checking for all volunteers. Feedback from schools has been excellent and the participants have been extremely enthusiastic to learn. Head Teacher Mrs Saunders at Plasmarl Primary School in Swansea says “this is just what we’ve been looking for for a very long time!”.
For the future, Teresa Walters explains that the team is particularly keen to hear from schools in North Wales, where take up has been much slower.