Many people roll their eyes at the mention of the school PTA (or equivalent group). Some parents and carers view the PTA as 'parents to avoid', while school staff can feel frustrated by the seemingly constant requests for room space and help at events. At the same time, PTA volunteers - who give up their time to work for the good of the school community - may feel undervalued and taken advantage of. With my two hats of PTA chair and school manager, I see the frustrations and dilemmas from both sides. But things don't have to be like this. Nurturing a genuinely constructive working relationship with your PTA will be beneficial for the school, its parents and pupils, and the wider community.
Worryingly, some schools are now charging PTAs to use their sites for meetings or events, as part of a general drive to generate income from lettings, or simply to cover the cost of a caretaker unlocking premises. However, lumping the PTA together with other school lets seems counter-intuitive. It damages the parental goodwill that is the cornerstone of any successful PTA, and it blatantly ignores the vital role the PTA plays in enhancing and enriching school life.
A good relationship with your PTA can first and foremost bring unrestricted income into the school through fundraising events and activities during the year. The current financial climate makes this funding stream increasingly important. When schools actively collaborate with their PTAs on fundraising opportunities, the potential for income generation is increased even further. The pot of money generated can also provide match funding for grant applications made by the school or the PTA. Since PTAs usually have charitable status, they offer the school a greater opportunity for fundraising through trusts and foundations.
Additionally, the PTA can enrich school life through funding activities and opportunities that support teachers to deliver the curriculum, as well as improving resources and experiences for children during school hours. Activities and events put on by the PTA provide exciting, varied and safe endeavours for pupils in the familiar environment of their school, often providing them with the opportunity to showcase their talents or experience something new.
Many schools like to engage the local community and will rely on the goodwill of local people and businesses. The reach of parents in the PTA can provide connections to local businesses, charities and other youth organisations that could potentially support the school in a variety of ways. Indeed, PTA members often have a range of useful skills to offer, and might run or work in local businesses themselves. Moreover, the PTA plays an important role in encouraging the wider community to buy into events and fundraising initiatives.
The PTA should provide an essential Parent Voice, a first-stop consultation for senior leadership where required. PTAs can also be a vital resource in disseminating information to ensure a good reach across the school community.
Oak Lodge Primary School in South London has an active PTA, which uses parent class reps to disseminate information to all parents and recruit volunteers. When a big snowfall was expected overnight two years ago, the school asked parents to check emails and the school website about a possible closure before leaving for school in the morning. However, on the morning after the snowfall, the entire web system at the school crashed and parents had no way of knowing that the school remained opened. The school office called a PTA member and asked them to disseminate the official information via the parent class reps system to reach as many parents as possible. This worked so well that the same system is now used alongside school communication to inform parents of any major issues or events.
Following requests from parents, Chestnut Grove Academy, a secondary school in south London, was keen to host an International Evening. Budgets were tight but the school wanted the event to be free to ensure it was as inclusive as possible. Working with the PTA, the school development manager put together an application for help from the Aviva Community Fund. Once this was accepted, the project went to a public vote. The PTA and school joined forces to encourage all families to vote, using Aviva's online links. They received £1,000 from Aviva to fully fund the event.