The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

What is VSO?

VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers. It recruits professionals to work in partnership with local colleagues and organisations to help them to realise their potential. VSO volunteers share their skills to ensure that when they leave, their colleagues are in a better position to build a positive future for their community. Since VSO was established in 1958 some 40,000 professionals of 94 nationalities have shared their skills with some of the poorest communities in the world.

Life as a VSO volunteer

VSO volunteers live and work alongside their colleagues, sharing both the highs and lows of the workplace and life in the community. Volunteers are provided with accommodation, which is of a similar standard to their colleagues, and are encouraged to participate in the local community as much as possible, both on a social level and by running extra curricular activities such as sports clubs and English language classes.

Volunteers are generally warmly welcomed into the heart of the community, with examples of proffered hospitality including invitations to traditional wedding ceremonies that can last days! The standard, and style, of accommodation varies between countries but will always include basic facilities and furnishings. It is not unusual to find mango, banana or avocado trees in the garden and many volunteers cultivate their own fruit and vegetable gardens.

VSO's role in professional development and teacher retention

For some potential volunteer teachers, the one or two-year commitment needed to undertake VSO can be a barrier, with concerns including the impact of taking 'time out' on career progression and the perception of VSO in the eyes of future employers.

‘Time IN’, published in 2002 by VSO and the Institute of Education, sought to quell the concerns many teachers, education managers and policy makers in the UK have about the value of a VSO placement and, in doing so, addressed the misconception that VSO is actually taking teachers away from the profession at a time when they are desperately needed.

The findings contained strong indications that sabbaticals can dramatically improve teacher commitment, motivation and - most importantly - retention. The strongest retention findings are in beginning and mid-career teachers who return to UK education and are committed to stay in the sector long term. Over the last ten years, 73% of working-age VSO teachers returned to positions in UK education. This is in comparison to survey findings from the GTCE which suggest that one in three teachers will leave the profession within the first five years of their career.

Teachers participating in the research generally said that volunteering reminded them about why they went into teaching in the first place. For many teachers the professional development opportunity VSO offers was a consideration when they applied. VSO teachers often hold positions of greater responsibility than in the UK and gain experience of a wider variety of roles. They return to the UK with greater proficiency in policy making, management and training, a wider range of teaching styles, an enhanced awareness of global issues and better team working skills.

VSO is endorsed by, and works in partnership with a range of education bodies and unions including the NUT and the NASUWT.

Opportunities for Teachers of the Deaf

VSO recruits into a pool of suitable volunteers, with teachers being matched to appropriate placements, rather than applying for a specific job. VSO accepts requests for volunteers from partner organisations in around 40 countries and each placement is different in terms of location and cultural reference. Organisationally, VSO is committed to developing access to quality education for all and to developing the skills of local teachers, so teachers of the deaf can expect there to be some element of teacher training and skill sharing in their role.

A current example (May 2012) would be an Inclusive Education Methods Support Officer in the Teacher Education Division in Ghana, supporting the Division to improve its teacher training curriculum and providing advice on inclusive, student-centred teaching methodology for primary teachers. Find out about the placements being recruited currently.

The package

To support those in the early stages of thinking about volunteering, VSO’s website has information about sabbaticals.

VSO volunteers receive training both before they depart and when they arrive overseas, return flights, health insurance, accommodation, and a living allowance when working overseas.

For further information on opportunities for teachers visit

or call 020 8780 7500.

Download VSO - BATOD Magazine article Sept 2004
Please note that this webpage carries more recent links and information than the article.