As Aya, Nasro, Megan and Caroline finished the performance of their self-penned spoken-word poem, the room erupted in applause and many audience members were in tears. The four Year 9 girls had been working with Solace Women’s Aid, a local Rape Crisis centre, and their experiences had informed this final performance, through which they hoped to win the centre £1,000. It was testament to their amazing work that the four girls just missed out on the top prize, coming second.
The girls were working with Solace as part of an initiative with the charity First Give. The charity encourages young people to help local charitable organisations by volunteering, which gives the students the opportunity to develop soft skills and a social conscience.
It provides a series of lessons – including lesson plans, videos and student work booklets – that guide teams of students through planning and running their own campaign to sponsor and advocate for a local charity. At the end of the series of lessons, the teams pitch to a selection panel of First Give, local business and teaching representatives to win £1,000 to donate to the charity they have been working with. The second and third runners-up win £250 each for their charity.
We have been working with First Give since its launch in 2014 and we deliver the scheme during Year 9 citizenship lessons (we teach citizenship discretely for one hour per week), but it would work equally for other subjects. It allows students to build campaigning, research and presentation skills, which are useful across the curriculum as well as for university applications and the workplace.
Fitting First Give into the curriculum was easy and so beneficial. It gives students a really practical, collaborative way of working that is different from all their other lessons with a real sense of achievement at the end. It has allowed teachers to deepen relationships with pupils and has engaged many of the typically hard-to-reach students.
Watch students mature
It is fascinating to see just how much students mature over the process, and how deeply they come to care about their social issue and charity. The charities in our local area have also been really supportive and have come to know the school and students much better. Many charities have been keen to continue working with our students and have offered additional workshops, assemblies or materials, further developing our PSHE.
One group of students who made it to our final but who didn’t win a prize really impressed by organising, with their charity, for a petting zoo to come to the school in the summer holidays so disadvantaged children could experience farm life. The students organised and advertised the event, and also volunteered on the day.
This example demonstrates how students reach a point where winning a competition is not their motivation; rather, it is simply helping the charities that they focus on. Yes, there are fantastic learning benefits that come with a scheme like this, but there are also important values passed on: many of our students continue to volunteer for their charities long after the competition has ended.
And the school as a whole now has a genuine, embedded ethos of volunteering and social participation and, as a result of this, we are much closer to our local community. Just as importantly, we can understand it better than we have ever been able to before.
The First Give Student Coursebook can be found at bit.ly/FirstGive
Jenny Morgan is now head of citizenship, PSHE and RE at Frederick Bremer School in East London. The examples in this feature are from her time teaching at Parliament Hill School in North London