I'm Helen and I am a new IPSEA volunteer. I have been taking calls on the Tribunal Helpline since early February 2022. I am retiring from teaching after 35 years in July and I wanted to have a voluntary role set up and running before I took the plunge of leaving my career – a bit of a mental health safety net I suppose as I have always been used to being busy. 

I found out about IPSEA through an online search and was immediately attracted to the volunteer role with them as I have always worked with children with special educational needs, and have enjoyed working with parents throughout my career. What I did not realise was that IPSEA had so much to teach me. I embarked on the volunteer training thinking I knew quite a lot about special educational needs, but I soon realised that schools and the local authority don't always follow the law! 

I was fascinated to learn all about the law and the training was very intellectually stimulating. The volunteer coordinators and legal team at IPSEA were really encouraging and supportive and it gave me a real sense of achievement when I passed my training and was able to start on the Tribunal Helpline. The next stage was to master the various online portals that support the helpline, but again there was very clear instructions and someone at the end of an email to support me. 

So I was ready to take my first call. It felt a bit nerve wracking, but once I started to talk to the families and hear their stories I was soon just concentrating on trying to provide some support and advice. One of the really motivating aspects of this volunteer role is that there is such variety – no two parents have the same issues. We prepare for the calls before we take them but often parents will come up with other issues whilst on the call. IPSEA’s legal team are really supportive so we can always email them for advice if we are not sure of something. I continue to learn new things every week. There is total flexibility when you choose to book in your calls and this is really important to me while I am still working.  

Once I retire in July I plan to book more calls on the Tribunal Helpline but also complete further volunteer training to increase my knowledge. I might also volunteer on the Tribunal Support Service, I'll see how my retirement works out!

Our volunteers generously donate their time for free. However, donations to IPSEA ensure our volunteers are fully trained, supervised and supported to deliver our vital advice services. This #VolunteersWeek, support IPSEA and our amazing volunteers by making a donation: https://www.ipsea.org.uk/make-a-donation