'Let's salute our schools' parent-volunteer army'

Parents don't have to give their time to run the school fete or disco. Where would we be without them, asks Michael Tidd

Where would our schools be without their PTA committees, asks headteacher Michael Tidd

With the academic year over in all but the more unusual authorities, presumably everyone’s had their summer fair and final discos for the year by now. 

With school budgets rapidly diminishing, and resources harder to come by, fundraising activities have become something of a core occupation of school leaders, as we try to find every possible way of paying for the essentials, while still affording a few of the desirables to make our pupils’ education better.

Thank goodness, then, for the small army of helpers that are the PTA and Friends’ groups. I have to confess – and I make no secret about it in school either – that an evening supervising the infant school disco is a special kind of torture for me. But, as headteacher, I know it pretty much goes with the territory. The team that is my Friends’ committee have no such tie: they volunteer for these things.

The show must go on

More than that, they organise the whole shebang. I know our pupils love the termly disco, but I also know that, if it were left to me to organise, then it would end up knocked repeatedly down the list of priorities. Thankfully, with a trusty parent-led team, the show will go on, and all I have to do is agree to the dates and roll up on the night.

The same will have happened at schools across the land. There will be parent volunteers who choose not to pack their kids off to the disco and enjoy an hour’s peace at home, but rather to put themselves at the centre of things as hundreds of excitable pupils in their best party dresses and shirts do what happens at all school discos: hare around the room, scream a bit, and occasionally join in with The Macarena.

What’s more, this comes hot on the heels of the annual summer fair. Just as everyone else is looking towards spending their weekends at the beach, or cremating a few sausages on the barbecue, that same hardy group of volunteers puts aside the best part of a day to set up the hook-a-duck stall, sell raffle tickets, man the bouncy castle and desperately rope in enough help to keep the tombola running.

Making the difference

Not every school is this lucky. In some, what little is left of a PTA will be rather reliant on the teacher element, plugging every gap and adding to their working day. In others, so few volunteers come forwards that the whole thing has long since collapsed.

But, for many schools, a small group of perhaps 10 or 20 returning helpers is what makes the difference when it comes to a well-stocked library, regular day trips for pupils, or the play equipment in the playground.

If you’re a really lucky school (as mine is), then not only do the volunteers keep things running, but they also take charge. It’s usually a small core group (at least one of whom, inevitably, has their last child about to leave the school any time soon) that does the rallying of the wider troops. A thankless task if ever there were one. They badger local businesses, chase up parent volunteers, coordinate with everyone from the school secretary to the local bakery, and all so that six months down the line the headteacher can gleefully announce the purchase of some new tablet computers for the juniors.

So as the paid staff step happily (and deservedly) into the long summer break, let’s hear it for the teams who haven’t taken a penny of school money all year, but have admirably added to the coffers. Three cheers for the PTA committees everywhere: we wouldn’t be without you.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979

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