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Societies in Schools

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Who: Brunel Volunteers working in partnership with the West London Academy Children’s University, with support and training also provided by the Rugby League National Governing Body

What: Dance, Tag Rugby and Netball societies from the University of Brunel designing and delivering after school coaching sessions for primary school pupils

Why: To provide opportunities for children to engage with learning outside of the classroom, and offer students the opportunity to develop and share their skills and enthusiasm for their sport 

Where: Piloted at the West London Academy, with plans to offer sessions in other local schools

When: The project planning commenced in the summer of 2010, with the pilot phase in the Autumn. It is intended for the sessions to run over the long term, having found a sustainable model

Project descriptionDance session

Led by teams of student volunteers from the Dance, Netball and Tag Rugby societies from Brunel University, ‘Societies in Schools’ captures the enthusiasm of students for their sport, as well as utilising their strong subject knowledge to provide exciting after school activities for children aged 8-10, with rich learning attached.

The project was a new step for volunteering provision within Brunel University, which emerged from the partnership with West London Academy Children’s University. This enabled the university to develop connections to the school and utilise the Children’s University resources to assist the students in developing viable projects. Further to this the students have also seen this as an opportunity to enhance their skills, in working towards coaching qualifications. This has been particularly important to the Tag Rugby society, who has worked with the Rugby League National Governing Body.

The project began as an eight week pilot in 2010, and following review at the beginning of 2011 has continued and developed, with plans to ensure it remains a long term opportunity for Brunel students. The university is also looking to develop these modules to encompass other societies, beyond sports.

I love it when the CU come and teach us. They demonstrate how to do it and really listen to us. They are lovely and kind. The students are the best people who teach us.” Year 5 pupil


  • Trial a new way for Brunel University to engage with local schools
  • Create volunteering opportunities which connect to students’ interests and talents
  • Create Children’s University accredited modules. Results and outcomes

Results and outcomes

What worked well


As this was a new approach for the university, they were cautious in their management. Starting quite small, it worked well that the student societies were hand-picked for the project, based upon their reputation within the university for being well organised and pro-active. Furthermore, the societies were encouraged to participate as it enabled them to demonstrate their community engagement work, which is a key element in applying for Society of the Year, the Students’ Union awards at the end of each academic year.

Working with schools

These sessions have grown and developed organically throughout the pilot phase, both with the ambition and plans of the students for developing their activities and with interest from the children. The number of children in attendance more than doubled when the project recommenced after the Christmas break, in comparison to the first session.

"The children have grown in confidence through these sessions. It has been particularly great to see children from a variety of cultural backgrounds, for which language can be a barrier in the classroom, being able to engage with their peers during these sessions." Teacher

A key to this success has been the commitment from the students, who alongside being inspired by the ethos of the Children’s University have also found it to be enriching for personal development, as the sessions provide experience to progress with their professional coaching qualifications.

"I have really enjoyed this project; it has given me the opportunity to develop my coaching skills whilst also raising awareness of Rugby League as a sport." Student Volunteer

Working with the community

These projects have altered the way in which Brunel Volunteers plans to develop their volunteering provision, particularly it has enhanced the way in which they approach and engage with local schools.

Rubgy coaching sessionThe Tag Rugby student volunteers have already expanded their sessions, to work with two other local schools in the area. They hope in doing so they will be able to create a school tag rugby league. They are currently planning a community day in May 2011 at the West London Academy, to host the first games between the school teams.

This team has also adopted a sustainable model for student involvement. Sessions have been led by students in their second or final year of study, with support from first year students. It is hoped the first year assistants will move into the coaching roles as students graduate and recruit new first years for support.

Brunel University Volunteers will also be involved in the Children’s University Graduation Ceremony, which is taking place at the university in summer 2011, which hopes to encourage the university to be seen as a more accessible resource to the local community.

Lessons learnt

The development and delivery of the projects appears to have run very smoothly and successfully with the continuation of the pilot into the next term. It has been fortunate that contacts from the stakeholders involved have quickly established a strong working relationship. Yet, to ensure sustainability in the future, it is important that formal partnerships are created, with the expectations of the partners outlined. This hopes to overcome the foreseeable challenges.

Additionally, when recruiting again (and with the aim of moving beyond sports societies) timescales are important. The key lesson learnt has been to try to engage students with the aims of the Children’s University earlier on to help inspire their activities and provide further motivation.


  • CRBs. A school teacher has been present at each of the sessions, in an observational capacity This has been very useful in ensuring the project has not been hindered by the long CRB process
  • The networking events of the Children’s University, sharing ideas and good practice
  • Rugby League NGB provided the tag rugby volunteers with resources and training programmes
  • Transport to the school by minibus was required, though costs were minimised by arranging the three sessions to be held on the same day

Top tips

  1. Initially handpick your volunteers: This has been particularly important for the pilots as it ensures the students involved were committed and took responsibility for their projects
  2. Ensure students have ownership: Involve the student volunteers from the start of the design process of the project. This provides them with a much richer volunteering experience and gives them more ownership and a stronger commitment to ensuring its progress
  3. Keep it simple: with regard to CRBs – the school has been very accommodating in this instance. Delays in receiving checks have been overcome by the presence of a teacher at the sessions, just to oversee
  4. Start small, but think big: As we have started small we have found a model which works well for us. From these foundations there are many more opportunities available for the future


Name: Lindsey Topham

Website: Brunel Volunteers