How to tackle teacher stress? Voluntary groups

Educational voluntary groups can teach pupils vital lessons that teachers no longer have time for, says Harris Bokhari

Article originally published on 19th August 2019

Voluntary groups are essential in order to reduce teachers’ stress levels.

For a number of years, teachers have been facing an increasing level of job-related stress. Early this year, a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 20 per cent of teachers felt tense about their jobs most or all of the time, compared with 13 per cent of those in similar occupations.

With funding cuts, rising pupil numbers and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession, schools have never needed to have more support in and out of the classroom. These levels of stress only increase in schools in the most deprived areas, many serving communities with large numbers of ethnic-minority pupils, and in teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Protecting teacher wellbeing

With more time taken up with in-class planning, because of higher scrutiny and requirements, and many classroom assistants taking more of a teaching role, there is less time for teachers to organise trips and sessions to raise the aspirations of their students, or to expose them to things that may be outside the curriculum but of immense personal value to them. Having the support of voluntary educational groups, therefore, has never been more important. 

These groups work to take the load from our already over-burdened teachers by providing valuable contact time with children from various backgrounds. Either through dance or music classes, or with extra help in core subjects, voluntary groups provide a supplement to children’s education that many simply cannot do without. 

These groups also intrinsically impart lessons about the important role of charity and the ethos of giving back to society. The excellent work these volunteer groups do outside the classroom cannot be underestimated, and is often cited by teachers as a reason for children’s progress in the classroom.

One such group is the inspirational Soroptimist International of Bournemouth. Founded 80 years ago, this women’s volunteer-led group supports schools in the classroom through its Stem Challenge, inspiring hundreds of girls to take up science, technology, engineering and mathssubjects. It helps them to think about future careers in these industries, as well as educate them on issues and challenges internationally, with the emphasis on advancing the cause of women across the globe. 

Swansea-based group Egypt Centre Volunteers demonstrates the important role that voluntary groups play to enhance the educational needs of our students outside the classroom. Through its Saturday workshops, targeted at socially and economically disadvantaged local children, it has helped to improve literacy and numeracy, raise confidence and foster a love of learning.

The impact of voluntary groups

Both these groups have previously been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which sits within the honours system, recognising volunteer groups and their exceptional service to local communities. The recognition of such groups is no more than they deserve.

There are hundreds of other – equally vital – educational voluntary groups across the country, which should also rightly be lauded for their work. Yet, in 2019, there was not a single educational voluntary group among the awardees. Considering the role these groups play in providing support to increasingly stressed and overstretched teachers, this has to change in 2020. 

Three of the seven biggest causes of teacher stress, as noted in this very publication, are workload, behaviour management and league tables. Supplementary voluntary groups add value by helping teachers manage their workload by covering topics that teachers simply cannot get round to during class time, in a more relaxed setting. They also help teachers to manage behaviour in class, by providing an outlet outside the classroom for children who struggle within it. And they provide support to those kids who need that extra help to get the grades they want. 

Educational voluntary groups do a great deal to directly and indirectly reduce teacher stress.

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