What is the effect of volunteering? It improves self-confidence and teamwork a bit, but not achievement

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and it matches a question I received this morning during a talk I gave in Knokke, Belgium. What is the effect of volunteering on schooling. Well, read on:

A new study from the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK looks at the impact of a youth social-action project. Delivered by the Youth United Foundation, it involved the creation of new units of uniformed youth organizations (such as The Scout Association, Sea Cadets, or St. John Ambulance) in schools in the North East of England. The groups delivered sessions throughout the year, usually weekly, delivered by trained staff from the youth organizations, sometimes involving adult volunteers, including teachers.

Seventy-one secondary schools were randomly assigned to receive the intervention or not. An initial survey of 3,377 Year 9 students (8th grade in the U.S.) found nearly half wanted to take part in the activities offered, and 663 took part in uniformed group activities during the 2014/15 academic year.

There was no evidence that the intervention had any benefit on children’s academic performance. However, participation in the intervention saw a small improvement in self-reported non-achievement outcomes including self-confidence (effect size = +0.10) and teamwork (+0.04). For children eligible for free school meals, there was no evidence of impact on any outcome.

A process evaluation revealed that students, teachers, and parents thought highly of the intervention. It also highlighted a number of factors that prevented the intervention from being delivered as planned, including a lack of space, time, adult volunteers, and support from senior leadership.

Still there are some important things to notice:

  • The effects that are improving are rather small in size and differs in relation to the social background.
  • The study used self-reporting.

At the same time: I do hope – and think – doing voluntary work has a benefit for others who are being helped, besides possible positive side-effects for the person doing the voluntary work.

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