Dixie Stafford, Chair of the Parent Association at St Albans High School for Girls, in Hertfordshire.
When I became Chair of our parent association, it was a shoe-in – I was the only person who stood for election. So, I never had the chance to publicise my views on how a PA should work, or which functions it should fulfil. But one of the reasons I wanted to become the Chair was because I do have some clear ideas about these things…
1. I think the most important function of the parent association is to create a strong sense of community amongst parents.
2. I think we should prioritise events and activities that create that sense of community, and make fundraising a secondary consideration.
3. I think the PA should be very clear about why the group exists and what we want to achieve.
Community comes first
The reason I think that – in a nutshell – is because when you have a strong community it simply makes parent life easier. In the early years of school, a good parent network helps children develop their school friendships outside of school as play dates are arranged, and helps to easily resolve all sorts of queries such as about homework.
But beyond this, most parents will occasionally have difficulties to overcome – finding another local parent for emergency lift share for example. Life is easier if there are other trusted parents to ask for help from time to time. For parents with older children – who start venturing further afield to parties and concerts – being able to easily contact other children’s parents when needed can be very reassuring for safeguarding.
7 Steps to starting up a PTA guide
The reason I think it’s important for the school too, is that when the parents feel connected to each other, and new parents are warmly welcomed into the group, they will tend, over time, to put more into the school. This might be in a range of ways, from volunteering in the school classroom, helping run mock interviews for sixth-formers, managing the lost property, organising second hand school uniform sales and, importantly, supporting fundraising initiatives.
Thinking about values
That focus on community can get lost if PTAs are too busy trying to make a success of a big programme of events. I think it’s important to identify and promote a clear focus for the parent association.
Our head inspired me with this. When she first joined the school a few years ago – and I first heard her speak to the parents – she emphasised the three key values that underpinned her approach: Scholarship, Integrity and Adventure.
Honestly, when she said that, I could have punched the air and said, ‘ Yes!’. For me, those values completely sum up what parents can expect from our school – it’s about the girls developing an independent love of learning, aiming for success through a solid moral code through a journey of discovery, exploration, curiosity and challenging yourself. My wish is to set some key values for our Parent Association too – so it’s clear what we’re aspiring to achieve and what we’re focusing on.
My aim is come up with three key words that encapsulate what our PA is all about. My first attempt is ‘Community, Collaboration, Celebration’. My vision for our parent association is to build a community by parents getting to know each other well, collaborating together to make their own parent lives easier, collaborating with the school to achieve its goals ... and having fun as they do this ... think quiz nights, coffee mornings and the summer ball.
Once I have those words my plan is just to keep using them – to have them up on Classlist, to add them to the bottom of newsletters – to use them again and again to reinforce why the PA is important. For me, creating values is as a way of setting the direction for what we want to achieve.
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