Department for Education
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Making it easier for teachers to volunteer overseas and bring lessons home - £13 million boost to pensions benefits for public sector volunteers -

Making it easier for teachers to volunteer overseas and bring lessons home - £13 million boost to pensions benefits for public sector volunteers -

DEPARTMENT FOR CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES News Release (2008/0051) issued by The Government News Network on 15 March 2008

Teachers and other public servants who take a career development break to volunteer overseas stand to benefit from £13 million in new pension benefits, the Government announced today (Saturday 15th March) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the VSO.

Public service workers who volunteer with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and similar organisations to work in developing countries currently do not get pension contributions paid. Under a three year pilot scheme the Government will fund these gaps without cost to the individual employer or employee.

About 350 UK public servants, including doctors, nurses and local government workers, take up such assignments each year and the fund is enough to cover pension contributions for more than double this number to get involved in volunteering abroad which can help reduce global poverty, and enrich UK public services on their return.

Currently around 180 UK teachers are taking this kind of career break. Teacher unions are highly supportive of the experience because it builds teachers' careers, helps establish global partnerships, takes expertise to developing countries and brings new skills back into UK education.

The announcement forms part of the Government's response to Lord Crisp's report Global Health Partnerships on boosting links between the UK and developing countries. The report highlights that: ', empowerment and helping people have more control over their lives and environment have profound and lasting effects'.

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said:

"I congratulate VSO on 50 rewarding years of taking practical professional help to some of the most difficult environments in the world. Teachers who volunteer bring back vital skills which feed back into UK education. The testimony of teachers themselves suggests they have learned creative new approaches, particularly to working with pupils from diverse and challenging backgrounds. They get management and leadership opportunities overseas that allow them to re-enter UK education with renewed focus or at a higher level.

"Ensuring that pension contributions are paid, at no cost to the school, local authority or individual teacher, will encourage more sabbaticals and career development breaks. This is in line with our recent support for international placements in Africa for UK school leaders, in partnership with the National Association of Head Teachers and VSO.

"My Department has made a substantial contribution to the new £13 million pensions fund, which is also supported by the departments of Health and International Development, and we hope to encourage more public servants into overseas volunteering."

Douglas Alexander, International Development Secretary, speaking today at VSO's 50th anniversary celebrations, said:

"Volunteering plays a valuable part in our society, not just in helping to reduce global poverty, but in the wealth of experience volunteers will bring back to the UK and into public service. That VSO is celebrating its 50th anniversary is a testament to the strength and importance of volunteering in our society."


The fund will be available to volunteers leaving the UK between April 2008 and March 2011 for periods of volunteering of between 7 - 24 months with VSO, Progressio, Student Partnership Worldwide, Skillshare or International Service. When they return to the UK and public service employment, they will receive pension benefits covering the absence based on their departing salary. No cost will fall to the employer or individual.

The scheme is open to any member of a UK public sector pension scheme, including NHS workers, teachers, civil servants, the armed services, local government services, the judiciary and parliamentarians.

Douglas Alexander, International Development Secretary, is speaking at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 15 March at VSO's 50th anniversary event.

Lord Crisp was commissioned by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to make recommendations to improve the links between health services and professionals in the UK and developing countries. Lord Crisp's report was published in February 2007, with 14 recommendations. Copies of the report can be found at

Facts and figures about the benefits of volunteering:

A 2006 report by Petra Cook and Nicky Jackson - Valuing Volunteering - showed that:

* 80% of returned volunteers felt their confidence in their own abilities had increased through doing a VSO placement. The same proportion believed they had gained skills they would not have acquired if they had stayed in the UK.

* 94% of employers believe that volunteering broadens skills and experiences

* 70% of employers believe that volunteers are more capable of handling diversity

* 67% of employers agreed that the returned volunteers they had employed brought different skills and experiences to the organisation in comparison with other employees

* 100 returned VSO business and management volunteers felt that they had developed skills including working with different cultures (92%), communication (74%), problem solving (57%) and influencing and persuading (46%).

Volunteer available for media interviews:

Keith Mellor (38) volunteered in the Maldives for two years until December 2007. He was one of several primary teachers from the UK working as a Primary Teacher Outreach Adviser.

Contact VSO's Abigail Fulbrook at VSO to arrange:
020 8780 7410 / 07790 628733

Here's one case study of a very recent VSO teacher, Keith Mellor - he's happy to talk to the media today, Friday after 11am, or anytime next week would be ideal.

VSO is working with the Maldives' Ministry of Education to improve the quality of primary education for 10,000 students, including those with special needs. Keith Mellor (38) volunteered in the Maldives for two years until December 2007. He was one of several primary teachers from the UK working as a Primary Teacher Outreach Adviser.

'I worked with primary teachers and supervisors/head teachers,' says Keith. 'If I'm lucky the local teachers have had some basic training, but in some of the really small schools, many of the teachers are unqualified and some have only just left school themselves. Supervisors generally have an administrative role here and it was our job to help them become more aware of their responsibilities and to develop sustainable systems to help them manage schools more effectively.'

Keith observed a real shift in the attitude and approach of the teaching staff. 'After my workshops on displays, many more teachers are taking the time to celebrate the achievements of children by making class displays,' says Keith. He noticed that the children are motivated by these and are taking more pride in their work. 'Lessons are more dynamic with the pupils taking a more active role in their learning. Maldivian teachers are becoming come empowered to try new ideas and to take responsibility for what they teach, rather than just following workbooks'.

The impact of Keith's work isn't just confined to the classroom. He described the change in one of the supervisors he's been working with: 'Before, she would wait to be told what to do by the principal. But after working with me, her confidence has grown and she now takes much more responsibility. She even tells the principal what she wants to do!'

Keith is back in Cheshire working in supply teaching now, he is refreshed and much more appreciative of the many resources schools in the UK have.

Enriching Education', an evaluation of the benefits to UK education of returned teacher volunteers:

PUBLIC ENQUIRIES:0870 000 2288



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