As identified in section 1, there is a great opportunity to capitalise on the willingness of individuals to help the community. This would be achieved by utilising the vast pool of knowledge and experience held by recently retired teachers to help tutor children in home-schooling, whilst they are in isolation at home, when their schools are closed.
However, the missing aspect of utilising this resource is a system whereby the willingness of an individual to help is captured, and how the skills that they are offering can be matched to the need for home tutoring for a particular child.
The solution to providing the above is a relatively simple solution to build. Using the internet to provide a platform (website), it would be possible for volunteers to register their willingness to provide support to children and for parents to ‘search’ for an individual that is willing to provide support for that child.
The platform would allow a volunteer to register their experience, specific areas (subjects) that they are able to provide support for and the number of hours support that they are willing to provide. Parents would be able to search and match suitably qualified tutors, for their children.
On going, retiring teachers could be encouraged to register on the site and details on how to do this could be included as part of the retirement packs that may be provided to teachers or even included as part of any ‘retirement training’ should it exist for teachers. However, a campaign to launch the scheme would be needed by the Government, similar to the campaign to recruit retired nurses, so that the scheme can gain some impetus.
As well as providing the capability to register one’s willingness to volunteer, it would be possible to store supporting materials on the same platform, such as teaching materials, so that tutors could plan and deliver education, in the same way that they might have done in their careers. The platform could also incorporate the means of delivering such lessons using such applications as ‘Microsoft Teams’ or ‘Zoom’. Of course this would need to be subject to the agreement of those companies, but they might be willing to provide those services ‘free of charge’ for such a worthwhile objective.
The solution proposed has the beauty of being scalable. It can be provided merely on an informal basis where it is merely a ‘meeting forum’ to bring Ex-Teachers and parents together. It can be expanded to provide supporting materials that can be shared across the platform or it can have a more formal structure where there is a degree of external management and control.
Whatever level of formality is built into the system, the IT awareness that would be needed by volunteers is likely to be a skill that they already possess from their teaching careers, whilst a by product of the pandemic has meant that parents (and even grand parents) are now much better educated in IT matters.
Of course, volunteering does not need to be constrained to retired teachers. There is scope for university language students to provide support to GCSE and A-Level students, having the added advantage of tutors supporting their peers. There is even scope to build such volunteering into the courses of university language students or even as part of teacher training courses.
There is probably one major objection to the above solution, which involves the matter of the safeguarding of children. Any person teaching or providing classroom assistance in school must pass an ‘Enhanced DBS check’. Whilst there is no legal obligation for a private tutor to undergo a DBS check, there have been calls for this to be made a legal requirement of a private tutor.
Although it may be possible to launch the above solution on an ‘informal basis’ and address the matter of ‘safeguarding children’ by including a ‘No liability statement’, it is felt that some degree of protection should be built into the site by only allowing tutors to register if they provide or apply for an enhanced DBS check, if they do not possess such a certificate. The tutor’s details would not be ‘visible’ to parents on the site until their DBS approval had been confirmed or that their DBS application had been approved.
Certainly, if the solution was adopted by the government or by any commercial organisation, then DBS approval would be insisted upon. However, it would not be a major issue to build in an application and approval process as part of the process of registering as a volunteer.
A barrier to the success of the scheme might be the availability of laptops for those children where such support is most needed i.e. for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Whilst not part of this submission, it is felt that there is a further untapped opportunity where there a large number of old laptops in the community that are gathering dust but which could be refurbished and distributed at relatively low costs. Similarly, businesses frequently upgrade their laptops and could be encouraged to donate old laptops to such a charity.
There are, of course, commercial spin off’s that might result from the launch of such a platform. Such a platform would be a prime site to sell advertising space, particularly for companies involved in the supply of educational material. Care would need to be taken to ensure that the presence of advertising does not degrade the usage of the site but is mentioned as it does begin to address the issue of ‘funding’ for such a site.
To conclude, the suggestion contained here does not need to be utilised only during pandemic times. It could also be used alongside the delivery of normal education, in ‘normal’ times. It would help to emphasis the message that it is good to give back to the community, not just during pandemics but at all times.