Lots of people want to run a project with schools - working with young people gives an opportunity to have an impact on somebody's education - which can make a difference to them for life. Many students come up against frustrations when they first try to work with schools - so this page is here to give you some advice on how to minimise these frustrations and make the most of working with schools.
Why can it be difficult to work with schools?
Unfortunately, many of the schools that we have established relationships with find that their resources are too stretched to make use of student volunteers’ time and drive. We routinely hear of changes being made to curricula that make it harder for schools to fit in extra-curricular activities, so why wouldn’t they want to take on board student volunteers who are giving their time to help support teaching?
Contacts - often students make the mistake of finding the headteacher's email address and taking their project 'straight to the top'. Unfortunately, headteachers have a huge list of responsibilities and tasks to focus on and developing new projects is low on their list of priorities. Similarly, going straight to the reception isn't guaranteed to give you a positive response. Building bridges is hard and takes time.
Time - Teachers are busier than ever: rarely able to find the time to even visit the toilet when they want to, let alone plan their future lessons, check their email, attend meetings and assess a potential project in their school.
Reliability - How do they know you’re not a flake? Seth Godin is, as always, perceptive about issues applicable to business and just about any other work setting.
Boundaries - related to the above point, how can you prove that you are serious about your project?
What can you do about it?
There are some things you can't change - but your best bet is to make sure that you are professional and taken seriously. Here are some of the best things you can do to improve your chances of making your project successful.
Methods of contact - It's best to phone up the office and ask for a named contact for the area your project covers. Some schools have a named member of staff responsible for community links. Then you send an email to the person who is best placed to make a decision about what you are offering. You can always follow this initial contact with a phone call after a week. An alternative way in might be to make contact with a school governor who you have reason to believe would be interested in supporting your project.
The clincher - In your email, highlight exactly what you can offer the school and how it will benefit the children. You'd be surprised how many people use language which makes it sound like the project is all about them! Demonstrate that you have researched the need first and that you have planned an evaluation to measure your success.
Be Prepared - if you are invited into the school, bring a copy of your project plan, lesson materials and anything else which you think will be of use for your contact in the school to keep.
Agreement - consider asking whether your school contact is prepared to sign a Partnership Agreement which clearly demonstrates who is responsible for what in running your project.
Perseverance - although you have identified a great need, sometimes schools have already got a solution. This is the time to take on board any suggestions that the school makes and make a better offer to a different school. Look to schools that already have good links with the community.
Once you can demonstrate that your project is working well in one school, others will be far more interested.
DBS (formerly CRB) Certificates
Depending on the nature of your project, it is quite possible that you may need to complete a DBS form to demonstrate to a school that you are suitable to volunteer there.
A criminal records check processed through by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) provides details of an individual's criminal record. For certain roles it will also include information held on the DBS's children and adults barred lists, together with any information held locally by police forces that is reasonably considered to be relevant to the applied for post.
Having a criminal conviction will not necessarily stop you from volunteering - it depends on whether the conviction relates to your suitability to work with children.
The City Volunteering service, based in Careers can help you assess whether your project will require a DBS Certificate or not.