Our PTA and school funded a library

We transformed how we work with our school to fund a new library, says PTA chair Yvonne Cole

Our small village primary school in North Wiltshire has three classes, some including more than one year group. Until about three years ago, the PTA (Friends of Stanton School, or FOSS for short) raised money and then offered it to the school, or the school asked for a particular amount to fund one-off events, such as visits from activity groups. Like many schools and PTAs, we didn’t really have a cohesive way of working together.

All that changed when our English lead teacher, Verity Anderson, had the ambitious idea of transforming an unused classroom into our very first school library. The school applied to the Foyle Foundation for a grant of £10,000 to cover the costs, but the bid was unsuccessful. Instead, FOSS took on the task of raising the money ourselves – and the project has transformed the way we work with the school.

While many schools lost touch with PTA members during the pandemic, our PTA’s relationship with the school grew stronger because we had a shared goal and a two-year timescale to work towards. We began meeting on Zoom, with Mrs Anderson and the head of school (Sarah Matthews) attending each meeting. Their consistent presence made me feel very supported as chair, and they often volunteered ideas and let us know how they could help during school time. They were also able to enthuse other members of staff to support FOSS fundraising activities. One of the most important things they did was provide an update on the project at each meeting. I quickly realised that this input was essential in keeping our PTA team of eight motivated, which meant that we, in turn, could motivate the wider school community to get involved in our fundraising.

My background was in helping universities apply for funding so I worked with Mrs Anderson in writing some bids. We got a local grant of about £1,500 and received about £750 in total from two parish councils. FOSS ran lots of events through the pandemic, though we had to completely change the way we did things. For instance, the school allowed us to use ParentPay so we didn’t need to handle cash. We also explored new funding streams, such as online raffles and ran a ‘Challenge 21’ (in 2021) where the children were asked to get sponsorship for doing something of their choice involving the number 21. Some baked 21 cakes, others did something every day for 21 days or walked 21 miles. It was something everyone could get involved with at home through lockdown. As a result, the challenge raised nearly £3,000, which was huge for such a small school.

Our £10,000 budget covered the refurbishment of the classroom with beautiful library shelving and furniture, plus the purchase of many books. The school brought in a local artist to work with the children to create sculptures for the space and the library opened in June 2022. It has been a great success, partly because so many of the children and staff felt part of its creation.

Since then, we have moved on to a new project – developing an on-site Forest School area. We’ve continued to run meetings on Zoom because it’s easier and attendance is better. Mrs Matthews still comes along and we have another teacher on board who is in charge of the project. She explains everything to us and gives us ideas too, which has been fantastic and very enthusing. It feels like a completely new way of working with the school, and means that we have a strong partnership going forwards.

The relationship between a school and its PTA is crucial to determining the success of fundraising and how money is used within the school. A successful PTA takes a lot of commitment and hard work from volunteers, and it’s only when school leaders recognise and support their PTAs that they can truly harness their full potential.

  • Yvonne Cole, chair, Friends of Stanton School (FOSS), Stanton St Quintin Primary and Nursery School, Wiltshire (80 pupils)

How to team up with your PTA

1 Separate bank accounts

It is a legal requirement for a PTA to have its own bank account. A PTA is a stand-alone entity that works with (but not for) the school and must legally keep separate accounts. PTAs can also apply for charitable status, reinforcing the need for a separate account. Yet some schools still insist that only the school account is necessary.

2 Don’t take the takings

Some PTAs have immediately been asked to hand over money raised at events, even to the point of being approached on the playground at the end of a school fair. Since a PTA needs to account for its takings, funds must go into its own account first.

3 Consult on spending

PTAs have to ensure that what they’re funding doesn’t breach the rules of their constitution, which is usually linked to benefits for all pupils. Schools can request funding for specific things but they can’t demand it. They certainly shouldn’t allocate PTA funds without first obtaining agreement. PTAs may have their own wishlist, so if you want their buy-in for your project, then consult and reach a consensus together. If PTA members feel listened to and valued, they’re going to give the project everything they’ve got.

4 Don’t make your PTA pay

Charging your PTA for venue hire when volunteers are raising funds for you makes no sense, as the hire charge will have to be deducted from the fundraising total. If you are going to ask the PTA to pay for a cleaner, then do handle this sensitively.

5 If you say ‘no’, say ‘why

If PTA volunteers are prepared to put in time and effort for free to help your school, don’t say they can’t do something without giving an explanation. Discuss, compromise and work around the issue together.

6 Communication matters

Having an open dialogue with your PTA will build a better relationship and reap dividends. You will understand what they can and can’t provide funds for, plus you can share key dates to avoid diary clashes. Hardworking PTA volunteers are an invaluable asset, so do respect and thank them for what they do.

Join FundEd to access our database featuring over £14m of grants for schools