In these unchartered Covid-19 and (partial / post) lockdown times this single word is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the hardiest of parents…
If you rewind back to March at the beginning of lockdown, like many UK families we were fully committed to homeschool with our colourful planner for the week ahead — starting each day together with 20 minutes of PE with Joe Wicks and the obligatory slice of homemade banana bread… followed by a varied and interactive curriculum armed with our neatly stapled worksheets (printed the night before of course) and expertly guided by the likes of Carol Vorderman for maths and geography with Sir David Attenborough — and ending each day with the latest chapter of J.K. Rowling's 'The Ickabog'.
How times have changed…
Fast forward to July and I'm ashamed to admit our kids — Isabelle & Henry — have become THE WILD THINGS!
Screaming rows to change out of their PJs in time for lunchtime (let alone breakfast) — the kids mysteriously disappearing to their bedrooms for days at a time (along with our phones and iPads…) — rewards (aka bribes) just to put on back-to-back ‘Horrid Histories’ on Netflix to marginally ease our guilt at having outsourced the horrors of homeschool to the TV — and bedtime… once a firm 7pm — now a vague period spanning hours (and what sometimes feels like days) typically involving exhausted tears & tantrums (primarily for me and my wife Geraldine).
But what have we learned?
Well firstly a renewed appreciation for our schools and teachers who have passionately (& patiently) been educating our kids before this all started — which we largely took for granted. Lockdown has given us a first hand experience of the challenge of engaging two kids in their learning — let alone a classroom of 30! With hindsight how very wrong George Bernard Shaw was with his infamous line ‘Those who can, do; those that can’t, teach’ — I for one have realised that I don’t have the requisite temperament or skills to be a teacher.
And the second learning — it’s incredible what schools, families and wider communities can and have achieved when working together — going above and beyond during this pandemic.
Be it school teams putting to one side their own health concerns to remain open to vulnerable and key-worker kids throughout lockdown (including bank holidays and the Easter and half term breaks), local companies donating IT equipment making digital learning accessible for all young people — and how about the Community Senior Letters campaign set up by 16 year old student Nina Anderson — connecting more than 35 London primary schools with local care homes, exchanging letters to overcome lockdown loneliness.
That said, with schools hopefully reopening in September — there are many challenges ahead to rebuild school life after lockdown — on a practical level ensuring schools are safe to enable the return of all pupils and then catching up on lost learning — but more complex is navigating the mental health implications for young people and the school teams affected by family bereavements, financial concerns from lost jobs, fears of returning to school and increased uncertainty about the future including a possible second wave of the virus.
So how can we help post lockdown?
With this new found appreciation of education and teaching, it’s the perfect time to think about what we can all do to support school life after lockdown in our local communities.
Volunteering is a great place to start with so many options depending on your situation — be that just one hour a year speaking to young people (digitally now!) to inspire different career paths or skills, helping with CVs or mock interviews — the offering of work experience placements — or ongoing roles such as reading with younger children on a 1:1 basis, joining a PTFA (Parent Teacher & Friends Association) or becoming a school governor — a little known fact is that school governors are currently the largest single volunteer force in the country with over 250,000 people helping govern state funded schools in the UK.
Four years ago I started volunteering as a governor for Varndean School — a large secondary school in Brighton — and I would absolutely recommend this as a rewarding way to regularly contribute to a local school and learn new skills at the same time. Often confused with the day to day operational role of headteachers or the fundraising role of PTFAs, the key responsibilities of governors are to provide strategic leadership and accountability in schools — overseeing the financial performance, holding the headteacher to account and ensuring clarity of the school vision and strategic plans. And whilst I started as the governor with specific responsibility for overseeing finances based on my accountancy training, schools are looking for governors with a diverse range of backgrounds, ages and skills from HR, legal, marketing, commercial and also increasingly technology skills.
And yes the last few months have been particularly difficult for schools and governors. In our case invoking the ‘1 in 25 year’ worst case BCP/DR plans to enable extended remote learning, battling to gain access to free school meals for pupils in urgent need, and most recently overhauling our risk assessments to safely permit reopening of the school. But this is all worthwhile when I think back to our pupils faces on exam results day, chatting with members of our after-school STEM club who built and raced their own green-powered Formula 24 car, or my personal favourite the annual Varndean goat race — see this post from 2018 when I had the (mis)fortune of coaxing/dragging William the goat around/over the obstacle course.
So if you’re interested in volunteering and can spare a few hours to support education and schools (or maybe a parent feeling a sense of relief that homeschool is coming to an end!) here are 5 useful links with just a few of the options available in the UK:
Inspiring the Future: using their online match-making platform, they connect schools and colleges with appropriate volunteers from a range of sectors and professions for activities ranging from talks, mock interviews & speed networking.
Speakers for Schools: founded by ITV's Robert Preston, Speakers for Schools helps connect state schools with inspirational speakers and also work experience placements. You can register here to join their list of available speakers.
Schoolreaders: a charity that links volunteers with primary schools for 1:1 reading with the aim to make sure that every child can read well by the time they move to secondary school at the age of 11.
National Governance Association (NGA): the membership organisation for governors, trustees and clerks of state schools in England, packed full of very useful information about what the governor role entails and to register your interest.
Parentkind: a charity established over 60 years ago to support cooperation between home and schools — and now the leading membership organisation for PTFAs — with the site full of ideas and resources on how families can support schools.
If the idea of volunteering your skills with a non-profit has caught your imagination - follow these 3 simple steps:
Follow Charterpath on LinkedIn for all the latest news, inspiration, and roles
Have a look around our website at www.charterpath.org.uk for case studies, helpful resources, and live volunteer opportunities
Sign the Charterpath pledge to show your support for our mission and volunteer your skills for at least 2 days each year
Alice Clementi and Alex Marsh co-founded Charterpath as a community interest company in 2020, with a mission to increase the proportion of accountants volunteering from 10% to 50% - inspiring more accountants to volunteer their time and expertise, connecting them with non-profit opportunities, and engaging with a wide range of organisations so volunteering is a core part of an accountant’s career. For more information, visit www.charterpath.org.uk.