Volunteering at school

Looking to volunteer at your child’s skill? Before you take the plunge, there are a few things you might want to consider…

There are a whole gamut of different ways you can volunteer at your child’s school and it is entirely up to you how you choose to go about it. First, you need to consider your skills, the time you have to offer and what you hope to get out of the experience.
 
If your main aim is to meet more parents and give something back to the school, the Parent Teachers Association might be for you. There are two dangers – one, that you volunteer to help out and find yourself running the entire school fete from scratch and two, that the inner circle of the PTA is a tightly knit mafia and you only get the rubbish jobs like stacking the chairs. This is, of course, to paint the negative picture, but as with all things the PTA can be a nest of internal politics and negotiating it all is an art in itself and requires a whole book rather than an article.
 
A good plan is to dip your toe in the waters first and volunteer for something specific, eg, a school disco, and for a specific role in it, eg handing out drinks. Check beforehand how much time this involves and whether you will be expected to set up and clear up. Work your way up gradually to taking on responsibility for the school fete. Remember you are in charge. You can set how much or how little you can contribute in terms of time, but be aware that if you promise to do things and then fail to turn up you will annoy a lot of people who you will have to see every single day of term.
 
Depending on the size of the school, being on the committee of the PTA can involve a lot of the skills you would need to run a small company. Fundraising, marketing, leading delicate negotiations, booking helicopters, organising stalls and thinking up new ideas to bring in the punters are all invaluable skills to add to your cv if you are taking time out of work and plan to go back. Obviously if you are working a lot of the activities that take place during the day might be strictly out of bounds for you. However, that does not mean you can’t volunteer for duty on a stall on a Saturday or at an evening event. You will earn Brownie points with the school head too.
 
If you don’t have the time for a lot of after schools activity, you might prefer to volunteer to be a parent governor at the school – governor work usually takes place on weekday evenings. When a place becomes free on the governing board, a letter is usually sent out to parents and you are invited to throw your hat in the ring. This involves writing a statement about why you are so indispensable to the school. If more than one person applies, you may find yourself in an election process and will need to ensure people know who you are. Alternatively, you could leave it all to fate.
 
Before you do this, make sure you understand what is required to be a school governor. This does not only include time commitment, which varies from school to school. Some schools hold full governor meetings termly which last up to three hours [or more] in the evening. They may also have sub-committees which you elect to be on which also meet termly, for instance, finance or curriculum-related sub committees. Others hold them more frequently and may also expect a more hands-on approach, including visits to the school to check on school dinners or get involved with other projects.
 
Make sure you are interested in the minutiae of the education system. You will be expected to know a little bit about the main issues in education or you may find it difficult to keep up with the debates. Again, being a school governor not only allows you to understand the whole school process more and gives you a broader insight into your child’s education, but builds your skills in areas such as committee work. There is also a lot of responsibility attached to the role. However, don’t commit to something you don’t think you will be able to sustain.
 
There are also all sorts of one-off opportunities for volunteering at school, such as herding the kids on school trips. You will probably need an up-to-date CRB check for this so check that out first.

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