Parent associations, PTAs, PTOs, PAs and Friends Of groups always want more members!
The more parents helping, the more money raised. The more parents helping, the lighter the workload. And the more people volunteering, the more inclusive the school community.
That’s why the early few months of the first term are so important – because a new cohort of children has just been accepted at your school. When children first join a school parents are keen to know how things work, keen to meet other parents and keen to contribute.
And if you get them onside now, they’re likely to retain that commitment as their children move up through the school. So, here are some ways to get them onside…
1. The welcome meeting
Never underestimate the power of face-to-face communication early on. Having the PTA at the first welcome meeting for new parents sends a clear signal that this is a school where parents do get involved. It means that new parents can put faces to ‘the PTA’, which makes you more approachable and, last but not least, you may get five minutes to give a talk to the new parents.
Don’t use that time to do a hard sell about the PTA: parents have a lot of information to take in at this early stage. Just introduce yourselves, explain (briefly) the role of the PTA and its amazing volunteers and flag up a few of the ways you can help the parents (answering questions; explaining the second-hand uniform system; arranging a coffee morning for new parents). By welcoming them into the community, you’ll gain good will – and hopefully that will make them more positive about taking opportunities to help the PTA further down the line.
2. The introduction
Never assume that parents understand who the PTA are, or the role the PTA leaders play in a school. Put together a short introductory talk (the more succinct the better). The points you need to cover are:
- The PTA are parents with children at the school
- Any parents with a child at the school can be part of the potential volunteers on the PTA – all are welcomed with open arms
- We raise money to help the school
- We also organise social events for parents – so we can get to know one another, too
It’s worth wheeling this introduction out wherever possible: at the welcome talk; at induction days; as a post on Classlist; in a school newsletter sent out to new parents; on a noticeboard in the playground. In any written material, it’s also a bonus to have photos of as many of the PTA as possible (although not everyone will agree to be pictured). The photos just help parents put a face to a name, which makes the PTA approachable.
3. The induction day
Kelly Walsh, the co-PTA Chair at St George’s Weybridge in Surrey, says, "One of the best ways to meet new parents is to organise a coffee morning at all the induction days. Parents often put this day aside to be with their children, so they’re available. If they’re not having the whole day off, they will probably have either the morning or afternoon off. So we run the PTA coffee event in the hour after the children have been dropped off and in the hour before the children are due to be picked up. The afternoon one tends to be the most popular. The parents turn up early, have a coffee and a biscuit and a chat. It’s friendly and informal – and it’s a chance to introduce the PTA and to help new parents (we bring along second-hand uniform to sell; we invite them to join Classlist, so they can keep up to speed with what’s going on and we invite them to a New Parents Social Evening.)"
7 Steps to starting up a PTA guide
Remember to flag up all the ways in which Classlist helps parents – keeps them in touch with events; allows them to chat online with other parents; helps facilitate birthday invites, playdates or school run friendships; enables them to sell school uniform (or find lost uniform). The important thing that new parents need to know is that Classlist is a safe, secure, school forum – and it’s the place to be to find out what’s going on.
4. The social side
Early on, new parents want to meet other parents with children in their child’s class and they will be keen to attend social events that facilitate this – so it’s worth the PTA setting these events up.
"The New Parents Social Evening is one of our big events of the year," says Kelly. "It happens early in the first term, we sit the parents in their ‘class groups’ and we do a quiz to get them chatting and working together. It breaks the ice and helps to get bonds forming."
Those bonds benefit the PTA. The stronger the parental community, the more they will encourage one another to support the school. Plus, the stronger those bonds, the more likely it is that small groups of parents will decide – together – to join the PTA or work together as Class Reps.
Again, use this event as a chance to chat about how the PTA can help parents and how it helps the school. Before the event, set up a ‘willing volunteers’ group on Classlist and mention (without doing a hard sell) that anyone who is interested in getting involved – whether that’s doing face-painting at the Halloween disco or being a Class rep – could join that group to find out what’s going on.
5. The willing volunteers group
The willing volunteers group is a group on Classlist that parents can choose to join. It’s an easy-to-access way of building up a pool of volunteers.
It’s up to you how fluid you make this. It could simply be a group of parents who are happy to be emailed when you need volunteers for events. Or you could set up a ‘skills list’, in which parents tick the roles they’d be willing to play…cake-baker; quiz-master; treasurer; comms guru…
6. PTA job descriptions
It’s helpful to have a ‘PTA Job Descriptions’ document somewhere on Classlist and on a noticeboard in school that shows all the jobs on the PTA (from Chair to one-off Summer Fair stall holder). The job descriptions should give a short explanation of what each job entails and the time commitment they carry (make this light-hearted, not terrifying!).
The idea of the job descriptions is to let parents see that – whatever their skills/ time available – there are roles on the PTA that fit them. Knowing that those roles exist is the first step in getting them filled!
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