Workforce - Schools should use some grey matter

6th December 2013 at 00:00
Draft local senior citizens into classrooms, expert argues

old age pensioners and other members of the public should be drafted in to help out in schools, a senior academic has said.

Describing these people as an "enormous and productive free resource" in an era of budget cuts, Irwin Turbitt called on councils to make better use of local volunteers. The senior fellow at the University of Warwick's Institute of Governance said it was people's "duty as citizens" to lend a hand.

Mr Turbitt, who is director of the Kafka Brigade, a group of academics working to reduce public sector bureaucracy, said that councils needed to stop thinking only in terms of the raw cash they had available to them. "You have to demand that people work with you, because that is their duty as citizens," he said.

"Get the over-65s in. There are thousands of (these) people and they are an enormous resource."

Mr Turbitt was speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland last month as part of a panel discussion on tackling inequality.

When one director of education recommended a programme bringing in fathers to help out in a primary school, Mr Turbitt said: "Why are you not all running dads' programmes in your schools? That doesn't require money or policy change; that just requires you to express some leadership."

Quizzed on the "one thing" he would do to close the persistent attainment gap in the school system, Mr Turbitt told the conference session: "I think the one thing that you can do is stop looking for the one thing, and face up to the fact there is no magic bullet."

He rejected claims from directors that they were restricted in how creative and innovative they could be by recent budget cuts, reminding them that they were still comparatively well resourced. "It's only half the number of children you had 100 years ago and I am sure you have more resources than you had 100 years ago, so this should be possible," he told delegates.

Mr Turbitt acknowledged that allowing a wider range of people - including pensioners - into schools would entail councils giving up some control. But he added: "Until we leave A, we will not make progress towards B."

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of headteachers' union School Leaders Scotland, gave a cautious welcome to Mr Turbitt's suggestion that schools should mobilise the public. He added that members of the community, including older people, were already involved in schools across the country and that this was being encouraged by Curriculum for Excellence.

"I am in favour of that, as long as it does not replace teachers. It has to be used sensibly," he said.

Organisations supporting older people welcomed Mr Turbitt's recognition of the value of the older generation, but said a range of factors could stop pensioners volunteering.

Doug Anthoney, communications and campaigns director for the charity Age Scotland, said: "The rising state pension age, the increasing number of people working past that age and the fact that later life is often accompanied by caring responsibilities, means that any assumption that thousands of older people can be mobilised in support of education is likely to be misplaced.

"Such volunteering opportunities would also need to be a positive experience for all parties involved, including those being asked to give up their hard-earned free time."

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