Every parent wants the best for their child, and that includes a great education. But once they’re at school, it’s tempting to completely hand over the reins to the teachers, without thinking how, as a parent, you can help improve the school both for your own child and all the other pupils too.
And that’s where PTAs come in. To mark the inaugural National PTA Week, running from June 21 to 25, Parentkind, the largest network of PTA fundraisers in the UK, is highlighting the fact that in 2019 PTAs raised a whopping £121 million for UK schools, and gave 3.38 million hours of their time to help in classrooms and fundraise for schools.
Without the amazing parent volunteers, schools would suffer and John Jolly, Parentkind’s CEO, says:
“Parent volunteers are part of the beating heart of any school. Our mission is for parents and schools to work together in close partnership, because the evidence shows this approach leads to the best overall school experience and academic outcomes for children.”
While Parentkind’s Annual Parent Survey 2020 found 47% of parents would be ‘likely’ to get involved with the school PTA, a third of Parentkind PTAs said lack of volunteers was their biggest challenge. The reasons for the shortage of volunteers were highlighted in 2019, when parents blamed lack of time (45%), being unsure which skills to offer (29%), or simply not being asked (27%) for not getting more involved with their child’s school PTA.
“Even though the end of the academic year is fast approaching, now is still the perfect time for any parent to get involved at school,” stresses Jolly.
“Our member PTAs often tell us they actively seek fresh faces, so however much or little time you feel you can contribute, it will be appreciated.”
And Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT stresses:
“The importance of a strong bond between school and families can’t be overestimated. School leaders really value the input and energy of parents who are prepared to give up their time to help with fundraising and other community-based projects.”
He says school budget cuts mean PTA fundraising often makes up for a lack of essential funding for schools, but adds:
“Quite apart from fundraising though, PTAs bring a welcome sense of community to any school, organising events that bring people together and put smiles on people’s faces. We’d encourage every adult with a school-age child to get involved with their PTA in some form if they’re able to.”
So what are the benefits of getting involved with your child’s school, either through joining the PTA, volunteering, or becoming a parent governor? Parentkind says they include…
1. Making friends
You’ll get to know other parents and teachers, and feel at home at the school, says Jolly.
“Many people forge good friendships with other parents and come away with a network of useful connections and memories to cherish.”
2. Helping your child’s education
“You’ll be a great role model for your child,” says Jolly.
“There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that when parents are engaged at school, children’s attainment improves.”
3. Getting involved with events
Jolly says school fundraising events can be great fun, and PTA members enjoy helping out at events such as school discos, film nights, and summer and Christmas fairs.
4. Sharing your skills and interests
Whether you have a talent for designing posters, balancing budgets or organising live events, your school will be grateful for any help, Jolly points out.
“Most volunteers enjoy their experiences and find a lot of satisfaction in giving something back,” he says. “At the same time, schools benefit too from having a deep repository of parent volunteers with diverse skills to draw on.”
5. Helping out in the classroom
Parent volunteers can support children with reading or maths in class, or set up library or reading groups, all of which can be very satisfying and really help children (including your own) and teachers.
6. Getting your hands dirty
If you don’t fancy getting involved with the academic side of school life, schools may welcome help with gardening and maintenance.
7. Sharing your professional expertise
Some parent volunteers provide careers advice and support for young people.
“Or if it’s in your skillset, you can help with grant applications for fundraising,” suggests Jolly.
8. Showing off your language skills
If you speak one or more languages other than English, and your school serves a diverse community, you could become a parent language ambassador.
“Language ambassadors can act as a point of reference for parents whose first language isn’t English in providing them with essential information and updates,” explains Jolly.
9. Helping the environment
Children being taken to school in cars causes a lot of unnecessary air pollution, but parent volunteers can do their bit to reduce this by setting up a ‘Walk to school’ programme to encourage more children (and parents) to walk whenever possible.
10. Helping to create a better school
Parents who prefer a behind the scenes role may consider becoming a school governor.
“They play a crucial role in setting and overseeing the aims and objectives of the school, as well as the targets and policies for achieving them,” says Jolly.