Volunteers with Pupils

Simon Hill is Head of Partnerships at Enabling Enterprise and a Parent Governor at Furzedown Primary School in South West London. Here is his article as featured on Schools Improvement Net about how well delivered feedback from experts outside the classroom can be transformational.

School Improvement

As a school governor I am familiar with our own cycle of continuous improvement: in ensuring children of all abilities are engaged in their learning and in particular that they receive feedback that gets them to the next level.

The Power of Feedback

The importance of feedback is underlined in Lee Elliot Major’s recent Sutton Trust blog, Bridging the Knowledge Gap. If delivered well –by which I imagine he also means consistently – effective feedback can lead to “a whopping extra 8 months in development in just one academic year.” Lee goes on to underline that rather than being an easy win on the way to narrowing the attainment gap, excellent feedback is often not prioritised in schools where its impact could be transformational.

Why not? Because doing feedback well requires the striking of a complex balance between pitching feedback at the right level and good neuro-chemistry. Fortunately for the non-neuro-chemists among us the Education Endowment Fund and the Wellcome Foundation are looking into this in more detail.

The Business Case

So, what’s that got to do with business volunteers and enterprise? Well, since joining Enabling Enterprise in September I’ve been fortunate to join several of our school visits to our partner businesses. The visits give Enabling Enterprise students the opportunity to get out of the classroom and get a glimpse of the world of work. This year we are working with 30,000 pupils from ages 6-18 in our 150 schools in London and increasingly beyond.

Enabling Enterprise programmes are embedded in the school timetable, delivered by teachers who are supported by our resources and expert Education Associates. Trips to businesses are a key component of our programmes. Each trip sees a group of 20-30 pupils visit a business and work on a project in small teams, supported by volunteers from the host business who go on to judge – and importantly feedback on – how well they have used key enterprise skills of teamwork, listening, imagination and staying positive to name just four.

Last week I met lawyers from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer who worked with pupils from West Hill Primary in London, and in October I saw children from Wychall Primary School in Birmingham pitch their ideas to directors at East End Foods. On both occasions I was struck by the thought our volunteers put into pitching the feedback at the right level, but also the immediate impact it had on the pupils.


Clearly the real impact of this kind of work doesn’t happen in an instant, it takes time. Which is why Enabling Enterprise has developed an impact assessment framework that complements schools’ own progression data, and which can follow a cohort over as many years as they work with us.

What excites me about all of this is that our business partners really do have a powerful part to play in giving children the chance to explore the world of work as well as in supporting their progress towards learning key skills that will be essential to their future success.

Another volunteer told me that within his business there is a real sense of supporting this kind of work to deliver on a range of business objectives: from purely altruistic, through to developing volunteers’ own skills, investing in future talent and a real sense of a commercial imperative.

Feedback from experts

The emphasis on project based learning and its role in cultivating imagination, creativity and enquiry has been around for a while, having gone in and out of fashion since it first made an appearance in the classrooms of the early twentieth century. Project based learning’s current popularity and effectiveness is increasingly recognised because of the impact of digital technology in supporting learning and as the evidence for what works is better understood and shared. Learning Future’s Learning Future’s Work that Matters: the teacher’s guide to project based learning provides an excellent overview of what this means in practice. Worthwhile reading for the interested non-teacher too, I might add.

Two things that this guide talks about are the role of critique in taking a piece of work to the next level, and the powerful role of experts from outside school in providing feedback. Our volunteer lawyers from Freshfields and the East End Foods’ directors supported both. Their feedback was concise and positive and very much focused on the “how to get to the next level.” It was also clear to me that by working alongside the students and talking to them minds were opening to future possibilities.

Julie Dobson, Head Teacher of West Hill Primary School, who accompanied the pupils to Freshfields: “It’s in context of work that makes all the difference, one of the students said to me ‘…do you think I could work here?’ – yes you could!”

The pace of technological, environmental and social change will mean that the world of work for a child starting school this year will not look much like anything we see today. We might not know what it will look like but all the evidence suggests that to succeed that child will need all skills that Enabling Enterprise puts at the heart of its work. To finish the list of eight started above: imagination, leading, aiming high and sharing ideas. Excellent feedback from teachers, peers and experts is essential. Opportunities to put these skills in the context of realistic aspirations for work aren’t just a nice-to-have, but a must-have.

Enabling Enterprise works with schools and businesses to equip young people with the skills, aspirations and experiences they need to succeed in life.


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