Volunteering at British schools

I loved everything about the state-funded school my son attended for 6 months when we were in the UK and have written about the experience here. In most respects, I preferred the English school to the New Zealand school he attends now. I say most respects because there was one thing about the English school that was just *absurd*: the police checks required for parent volunteers who want to help out in the classroom.

I have always helped out in Daniel’s class just once a week for an hour or so since he started year 1 (he’s year 3 now). In New Zealand, anyone can volunteer and there’s no form to fill in and no police check to perform and no identification required. You simply negotiate a suitable time with the teacher, turn up and provide support for them. Daniel has always loved me doing this and I have found it useful knowing what they’re up to and his teachers have always been extremely grateful for the help.

When he started school in York, I volunteered my services again, only this time there was a form to fill in and a police check to undergo. This would have been fine except that identification was required. Unfortunately all I had with me was a New Zealand driver’s licence in my married name and an Australian passport in my maiden name (neither document was sufficient on its own). I stupidly didn’t take my marriage certificate or any other documentation with me to the UK. This meant that they could not confirm my identity. The school told me that they’d send the forms off to the police anyway but that I’d probably have to be fingerprinted. This was fine – especially since we had already been fingerprinted at Heathrow airport upon arrival – except that quite a few months passed before I heard back from the police and by the time I did, we only had a month left in York and so I decided it wasn’t worth it as there was still going to be a 4-6 week wait after my fingerprints were taken.

So I never got to volunteer at a State school in the UK which means that schools are turning away *free* help. I can understand why teachers and people who work with children should probably be police-checked, but a parent who is never alone with the children? I think this is ridiculous.