That’s the message from Business in the Community Scotland (BITC), a charity supported by the Duke of Rothesay, which arranges for volunteers from a range of leading companies to work with schools across the country.
Those taking part help with reading and numeracy activities, or simply answer questions from pupils on what working in an office is like and the skills needed for a particular job.
They are not intended to be a substitute for qualified teachers. Instead, they are there to raise aspirations from a young age.
Volunteers from Clydesdale Bank visit Royston Primary, in the east end of Glasgow, on a weekly basis.
“It’s not that we can’t teach them these skills,” said headteacher Jane McShane.
“But the pupils react very positively to a fresh face with new ideas. These people are out doing different things and they can demonstrate to the children the variety of opportunities out there, which they can aspire to.
“You want to give your children goals, to aspire to do something productive with their lives.
“This is the ideal time. When they reach high school, they can get caught up in subjects and exams. By starting early, they know there’s a path they can follow.
“The programme has opened up a lot of opportunities that ordinarily we wouldn’t have. For example, we’ve arranged a careers event where some of the volunteers will explain how they went from being primary school pupils themselves to getting jobs.”
BITC has now launched a free resource pack aimed at making it easier for nurseries, early years centres and primary schools to build partnerships with businesses.
It follows the successful completion of a pilot project, the business engagement in early years programme, which saw staff from more than 30 businesses and institutions volunteer at 13 primaries or nurseries across eight local authority areas in Scotland. More than 130 volunteers worked with over 900 pupils.
Clydesdale Bank is a key partner in the programme, having donated over 365 hours of volunteer time to three early years institutions, including setting up two paired reading groups at Royston.
“We encourage our employees to volunteer,” said Irene Swankie, the bank’s community affairs manager.
“When BITC asked us to get involved, we were keen to support the programme and now volunteers from the bank go every week to Royston Primary. We’re also are involved with St Pius Primary in Dundee and Letham Primary in Perth.
“For us, it’s the right thing to do. It engages our staff and helps them to develop new skills, as well as giving us the opportunity to support the communities in which we live and work.”
The schools project was developed by BITC in response to research on some of the key issues faced by Scotland’s young children.
A 2015 Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report found that by the age of five, children from the highest-income quintile are on average around 13 months ahead of their peers in the lowest-income quintile in their knowledge of vocabulary, and 10 months ahead in problem-solving ability.
The same research also found children from the lowest-income quintile are significantly more likely to exhibit a range of behavioural difficulties on entry to primary school, compared to their peers from the highest-income quintile.
BITC was founded in 1982 is part of the Prince’s Trust network of charities. We work with businesses to help them put into action their responsible plans in order to help make them sustainable but also make the community a better place,” said Scotland programme coordinator Cynthia Fry.
“When you work with kids when they are young, it means they haven’t had a chance to fall behind, particularly if they are from areas of multiple-deprivation.
“Some of the children we’ve taken into an office, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen one.
“The Prince is very actively involved in the work we do and is a big supporter of our projects. He regularly gets involved in our work.”