Schools need good Parents’ Associations. They don’t need bad ones.
It’s a first day quandary. Should I embrace the Parents’ Association or run a mile?
Responses usually fall on gender lines. Women will wrestle with guilt and a sense of civic duty. Whereas men are off before you can say “would you like to help at the coffee morning?”
On the face of it, a higher level of parental involvement in a school is a good thing. It shows that other parents are committed to the school and are prepared to give up their spare time to help expand or augment the pupils’ experience. Or to be blunt, your child’s experience.
Parental involvement in the school is particularly important for smaller primary schools where funds are limited. And smaller prep schools are susceptible to children leaving in higher years for junior departments of senior schools. Parental involvement is also important for schools with a more transient population of relocating families.
A successful community of parents with a vested interest in a school can really help a school. In some primary schools some parents volunteer as classroom assistants or reading assistants. Some with particular skills lead classes as guest visitors. In some faith schools parents help with the logistics of running the school, and in one case, even making the school furniture. The involvement is similar to the old village schools, where the whole community had an interest in the school.
A good Parents’ Association is good for the school
More common today are parent bodies such as the Parents’ Association. They come in different guises.
There is the Parents’ Association, Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Parents’ Committee, Friends of, Guild of Parents, Social Committee. The list goes on. Each one comprises a different mix of parents, governors, teachers, alumni, benefactors. They can be informal, but most are formal with constitutions and minuted meetings. Some are established as limited companies and registered as charities.
They also vary in purpose, with objectives ranging from;
- Class based social gatherings such as coffee mornings or end of term drinks/dinners.
- Welcome receptions for new parents.
- Serving refreshments at school events and sporting fixtures.
- Running the 2nd hand uniform shop and/or merchandising.
- Co-ordinating events for the children such as discos, movie nights, pantomimes, visits from Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, etc.
- Promoting family events such as Christmas fairs, summer fetes, firework nights.
- Organising parent events such as an annual ball/dance, quiz night, choir, fashion/ladies event, golf/sports event.
- Fundraising, usually through family or parent events.
- Formal and structured feedback channel between the school and parents.
- Sounding board for school management (akin to a customer focus group).
- Conducting school tours.
When it works well a Parents’ Association is a very powerful asset for the school. It creates a social network and a community of goodwill by organising and running events for pupils and parents. And it raises money for the school. According to PTA UK the average Parents’ Association raises £7,373 per school per year. 26% raise more than £10,000 per year. And, they donate an average of 200 volunteer hours per year. All of which serve to enhance the atmosphere at a school, reduce pupil churn and provide word of mouth endorsement to encourage new applications to the school.
A Bad Parents’ Association can be dangerous for the school
Not every school has a Parents’ Association. In fact, 35% don’t, and it is easy to understand why. They need managing and are hard to manage. Other parents can respond negatively to “alpha” parents on the committee or over-zealous fund raising. School management can respond negatively to perceived interference in the running of the school. Most destructive of all is a fallout within the Parents’ Association itself. It’s usually at a moment when everyone is expected to pull their weight, but some don’t. The consequence sees the most ardent supporters of the school become its most dangerous detractors, almost overnight. It happens a lot.
A bad parental atmosphere is as easy to detect as a good one. It is worthwhile sensing if parental involvement is a positive contributor or detractor to the school’s wellbeing. If, indeed, there is any parental involvement at all.