Volunteering is often seen through the prism of the workplace – but it can offer fantastic opportunities to pupils as well
Opportunities for volunteering and pro bono work form part of many companies’ recruitment and retention strategies.
Taking part in meaningful volunteer work has been shown to increase employee engagement. In fact, in a recent Deloitte survey, 77% of respondents believed that volunteer activities were better employee morale-boosters than company sponsored happy hours.
It’s not just in the workplace where volunteering can increase engagement.
Creating opportunities for volunteering can have a net positive impact in schools, too. Volunteer opportunities have been shown to improve competence, confidence and performance.
Beyond the feel-good factor that comes from doing work to benefit others, volunteering programmes give students the opportunity to develop practical skills and gain a greater appreciation of wider world issues.
Importantly, volunteer roles also help many young people to develop self-confidence. This is particularly helpful at school, where the ability to self-motivate is key to success. Without self-belief, motivation to learn can be lacking. Volunteering roles give students the opportunity to build their self-belief by contributing and making a real difference.
In keeping with our school motto, “Distribute Chearfullie”, George Heriot’s currently runs 443 volunteering placements through partnerships with charities from across Scotland, the UK and internationally. These can range from working at soup kitchens to hosting guided tours of heritage sites and supporting nursery staff.
Every school year group is encouraged to take part in fundraising activities; however, we see our S6 programme (for students aged 17 to 18) as the jewel in our crown. Here, volunteering is actually built into the curriculum - there are a set number of compulsory volunteering hours that our students must arrange and attend themselves.
Since the onus is on our students to arrange and manage their placement, they have the opportunity to enhance their practical skills like time-management, social interaction and resilience – all skills that will become invaluable later in life.
Students’ sense of responsibility can also flourish through volunteering work. For example, many of our S6 students work with Circle, a charity that supports Scottish families. Students act as a mentor to a child experiencing social difficulty. They are directly responsible for providing mentoring support and what they say, how they behave and their ability to keep appointments will directly impact that child. Being given this responsibility shows our students that we trust that they can rise to occasion, which often translates into an increased sense of self-belief.
The mentoring partnership with Circle has had a huge impact on both the young children and the student mentors. One parent of a student of ours recently told us that it had totally shifted their child’s world view.
Much as schools should look to charities to set up volunteering opportunities, charities should likewise consider schools as a support resource. High school students aren’t always front of mind for charities searching for volunteers, but they often have free time and are keen to prove themselves – given the opportunity, they can make really valuable team members.
We’ve found that our volunteering partnerships are well received by charities because they aren’t sharing their message with just one student, but are setting up a legacy that lasts long beyond an individual student’s academic career – when a student sets up a partnership, we keep it going after they leave.
To motivate students as well as to enhance their performance, I would encourage all schools to work closely with charities to develop enduring partnerships - these benefit not only those in need, but the children lending their help too.
Lesley Franklin is principal of George Heriot’s School.