From education to employment

Volunteering in the Big Society

Giving young people a better sense of civic duty and responsibility through volunteering work can provide them with alternative opportunities to achieve their goals, according to a new Ofsted survey.

Ofsted’s ‘Choosing to Volunteer’ report was published today to mark International Volunteering Day.

Miriam Rosen, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, explained: “Volunteering not only enriches participants, community groups and civil society more widely but can provide alternative opportunities for youngsters to achieve their goals and gain work experience, especially those who have been excluded from school or who might exhibit behavioural problems.”

Supported by evidence collected from online panels of 328 young people and Inspector visits to six secondary schools, seven colleges and six youth and community organisations, the report highlights the experiences of young people, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, who participate in volunteering programmes.

Key findings:

– Well-managed volunteering programmes provide a means by which young people can engage constructively in civil society, enhance their learning experience and gain significant benefits.

– Most effective schools, colleges, and youth and community settings did not consider volunteering as an ‘add on’ to mainstream learning. They have creative ways of integrating volunteering within courses and ‘in-house’ projects enabling young people to take on greater levels of responsibility.

– All of the schools and colleges visited worked with external national charities and agencies either to extend the range of volunteering opportunities on offer or to target specific groups of young people.

– In the targeted provision visited, organisations and practitioners were effective in identifying the support needs of vulnerable or disadvantaged young people and in developing their confidence and building their social skills.

– Providers invested time in training young people and recognised the need for young people to have skills, confidence and credibility in undertaking volunteering roles.

– Most effective practitioners had been trained in areas such as student-led decision-making, group work, project-planning and community networking and they ensure that young people are able to make informed choices about the volunteering opportunities available to them.

– Evaluating the impact of volunteering presents genuine challenges; there were examples where providers were able to evaluate elements of volunteering programmes, but none was doing so in a comprehensive manner.

– Linking volunteering with accreditation can bring both benefits and problems; young people often spoke about the intrinsic value of volunteering and how it had nothing to do with gaining a qualification.

The figures of the online survey revealed that 92 per cent of the young people questioned thought that volunteering was worthwhile and had helped them to develop important skills and attributes, such as advocacy, team working, motivation and resilience.

Some 40 per cent said it was a good feeling of having helped, 14 per cent reflected on their improving employment prospects as a key feature, 11 per cent emphasised the new skills learnt and ten percent highlighted that it looks good on a CV.

Recommendations put forward:

The Cabinet Office together with the Department for Education should review the support provided to national charities to enable them to maintain their work with schools and other providers in developing young people’s civic engagement.

Providers should: map the benefits to learning of the range of activities related to volunteering they undertake.

– should review their curriculum with a view to determining where opportunities lie for young people to enhance their learning through volunteering.

– consider specifically the means by which volunteering is used to engage disadvantaged and vulnerable young people productively.

– ensure key staff are skilled and knowledgeable about volunteering, through workforce development opportunities and networking.

– develop more effective ways of evaluating and articulating the learning outcomes that young people accrue from volunteering.

Aastha Gill

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