Vicky: the value of volunteering
Our colleague Vicky Süsserott shares her learnings of being a School Enterprise Programme volunteer at St Michael’s Catholic College and Alan McDonald, Head of Business & Economics at the school, shares what difference it truly makes to the students.
Head of Business & Economics at St Michael's Catholic College, Bermondsey
I’ve been teaching for just over a decade now, mainly in London and on the south coast. I am currently Head of Business & Economics and oversee St Michael’s School Enterprise provision too. By far the best thing about my job is working with young people, who have family backgrounds from all over the world.
St Michael’s is an outstanding Catholic state school in Bermondsey whose intake is largely working class. The overwhelming majority of students are either the children or grandchildren of people who moved to Britain from around the world. These factors combine to make a vibrant and diverse learning environment that’s focused on helping students fulfil their academic potential and develop as socially and spiritually minded people.
The main challenges both the school and our students face are socio-economic. As most of our intake are from working class backgrounds, the economic challenges that working class people usually face have been exacerbated significantly in recent years by COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis. The scarcity of resources is a constant issue both inside and outside of school.
We do our best to ensure that students have what they need, at least while at school. This extends beyond our statutory obligations and includes the provision of breakfast clubs, after-school study clubs and assistance with access to learning equipment like laptops.
The involvement of Grant Thornton is important to us in many ways. One of the most important, though, is the opportunity for our students to engage with people who work in a top city firm. Meeting the volunteers can often be their first interaction with anyone who works for such a firm - one of the things that can hold students back is the lack of cultural capital. At the very least, the engagement with Grant Thornton raises their awareness of such firms and of the potential careers that might be open to them. At best, it serves to ignite a spark of ambition that will propel them into careers they might not have otherwise considered or even have been aware of.
To those who are still considering volunteering, I’d say get involved! It’s an opportunity to engage with young people and gain a different perspective on life and the world. You might just change someone’s path in life - for the better!
Administrator, Insolvency & Asset Recovery
Social mobility has always been important to me and schemes like the School Enterprise Programme help to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider a career at Grant Thornton. I’d volunteered before but not in a school, so I wanted to try something different and decided to volunteer at St Michael’s.
My role as a volunteer was hosting a one-day workshop to help year seven students develop workplace skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. We encouraged students to come up with a business idea in teams and pitch it to their classmates. The team with the best idea won a £50 investment into the business idea.
I was a bit apprehensive, not having worked with school children, but felt prepared going into it. Ahead of the day, volunteers took part in a briefing session where we went over what to expect. We were paired with a buddy from the firm to host the sessions alongside, and I met with mine beforehand so that we could familiarise ourselves with the content.
I was surprised to see that the children were receptive and engaged throughout. I was worried the children might lose interest throughout the day, but each team came up with unique ideas and the effort they’d put into their pitches was clear.
Accountancy is still considered a predominantly middle-class profession and, as Alan’s pointed out, students at St Michael’s are largely from working-class backgrounds. It’s invaluable to introduce Grant Thornton to these students, so they can see themselves belonging in firms like ours and considering us as a prospective employer in the future.
The main skill I developed during my experience was public speaking. I’ve never presented to an audience before, so it was good practice.
I’d volunteer again and encourage others to give it a go, even if you’ve not done something like this before. I didn’t have any similar experience prior to taking part but I found it a rewarding experience. It has real effects on real people, and I was glad to have been involved.
Overall, it was challenging, fun, and a way to broaden your network.