Why voluntary education groups are vital in this crisis

Why voluntary education groups are vital in this crisis

As highlighted in the government's State of the Nation 2018-2019: Social Mobility in Great Britain report, social background still has a huge impact on a child performance at school and subsequently their life prospects.

Some of the root causes behind these educational inequalities have been further exposed by the pandemic-induced lockdown.

Lockdown has been harder on children from poorer backgrounds, with weaker internet connections making online learning more challenging, lack of space at home limiting the opportunity for creative play and leading to frustration, and a lack of resources making home study much more difficult.

With rising pupil numbers and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession, it is unfair to expect teachers and the schools to have the resources or expertise to provide these children with the extra support that they need to give them a fair chance in life.

This is where voluntary groups are crucial for bridging the gap.

One major obstacle faced by children from deprived backgrounds is a lack of encouragement to read and limited access to books.

This is highly significant, as by age 11 there is a 12-month difference in the language development of a child from a “book-rich” home compared with that of a child from a “book-poor” home.

The Children’s Book Project seeks to address this “book gap” by gifting donated books to children with very few of their own, via targeted schools, food banks and community settings.

Its incredible work supports over 35,000 babies, children and young people, providing over 57,000 books.

Through reading, children not only gain important skills, they also tap into stories that can inspire them to greater things.

However, it is important that they can also tell their own stories. To this end,The Reporters' Academy engages disadvantaged and disengaged young people (aged 14 to 25) to volunteer and tell the hidden stories of their communities – giving them a chance to have their voices heard.

It provides a unique education and training programme, where young volunteers produce media for community and global platforms, giving them a voice and the confidence to take ownership of their narratives.

Of course, it is important to not forget that many children suffer from learning disabilities, creating unimaginable obstacles to doing the most basic tasks, which can severely affect their confidence and development.  

Dudley Voices for Choice trains hundreds of people each year about learning disability awareness, making information accessible and campaigning to change lives.

Its initiatives are innovative and come from the ideas of volunteers who use their own life experiences to make others aware of what people go through and how everyone should be treated.

It is hard to overstate the value of these educational, voluntary-led organisations for stressed-out parents and an overburdened education system.

There has already been research, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others, suggesting that lockdown could have long-term impacts on children’s educational attainment, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds being worst affected.

The extra support provided by voluntary organisations will be all the more important in this context.

The groups have all been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS), which sits within the honours system, recognising volunteer groups and their exceptional service to local communities.

This recognition is no more than they deserve, serving as a vindication of their efforts and encouragement for the future.

Whether through the QAVS or other initiatives, supporting educational voluntary groups will continue to be an important part of any strategy seeking to improve the attainment and wellbeing of the most vulnerable students in our post-Covid Britain.

Harris Bokhari is a national board member of Mosaic – The Prince’s Trust mentoring programme, and founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation