School volunteers should not replace paid employees

Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy.
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy.

With the funding situation in some schools as it is, I was not completely surprised to read that an academy chain in the south of the country was looking for volunteers to fill roles usually reserved for paid employees, writes Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy.

I hope this approach doesn’t take off, because filling roles belonging to qualified people with people doing it in their spare time is, in my view, neither fair nor efficient.

We do have a number of volunteers at our school, but they are strictly supernumerary and don’t replace an actual job, such as our volunteer parent governors or former students who return for work experience or support our staff and students while they consider a future in teaching.

Elsewhere, there are fewer opportunities for people, especially parents, to get involved in the life of a secondary compared to somewhere like a primary school, where they can go into school to hear pupils read or organise fundraising events.

Generally, what opportunities do exist at the academy are there to help parents support their child rather than help the school, such as parent-teacher meetings, celebration events, family fun days and, starting this term, our new range of family learning activities.

This will soon change, however, because we are also setting up a new parent consultation group where we can canvass their opinions.

We had such a group at my previous school and, once it got up and running, it worked well. We were able to use the parents as sounding boards, which not only gave us an idea of how new ideas might go down at home, but also gave them the satisfaction of knowing that they were being listened to and their opinion valued.

A school should be at the heart of its community and involving parents in their child’s education is an important part of that, but I would never expect a volunteer to take on a role that should be done by a paid employee.