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Parents make a real difference

Joining the PTA is more fun than being a governor, says Ben Rooney

I HAVE spent five years as a governor, one as vice-chair and three as chair. I have chaired personnel and premises committees, produced annual reports and prospectuses, been on dozens of training courses, sat through more policy reviews than the Tory party leadership, agonised over key stage 2 targets and fretted about the toilet blocks, been through a successful inspection that lifted the stain of "serious weaknesses", got my head round Pandas and Picsis, QCAs and NQTs, Sencos and Gamp;Ts.

After all that I have quit the governing body and joined the parent-teacher association instead. Why? Because I am a slow learner. It took me five years to realise that if you want to make a real difference to your school, don't be a governor, join the PTA.

PTAs do real things. They organise fireworks nights and Christmas bazaars, they pay for computers and geography field trips (and increasingly pencils and rubbers as well). They allow the children - and the parents - to take part in things that otherwise they would never get the chance to do.

They make a real difference. In the case of my school, a small rural primary in Essex, the PTA has paid for a swimming pool and part funds the impressive computer suite. It just about doubles the money for the school to spend on the curriculum, freeing up cash for other areas.

And while raising the money and reinforcing the vital links between school and the community, parents can actually enjoy themselves. PTA events are fun. Governing body events are a duty.

Anita Atkinson, a governor from Durham who has also served as a PTA member, agrees. She says: "PTAs make the biggest impact both on the community and with parents and pupils. They are easier to understand and they are highly visible - not to mention the fact that they involve parents, pupils and the community. PTAs win every time."

To raise funds she wrote a history of the school - founded in 1614 by the prince bishop of Durham. The PTA backed the project, publishing the book. It raised a staggering pound;5,000. "And it put the school on the international stage and renewed interest in it from past, present and future pupils," she adds.

When it comes to volunteers, many schools, especially primaries, struggle to fill governing bodies but have no problems finding members for the PTA.

Many governors freely admit that the PTA has a much more visible impact on school life. But while their role may not be so high profile or fun, it is more important.

Most, rightly, highlight the appointment of the headteacher as a board's top task. For Stewart Jones, a governor in Barnet, overseeing the work of the head is an important function.

He says: "If some governing bodies disappeared tomorrow who would notice or care? Most schools would carry on, but some heads would behave outrageously without a body to oversee their work".

Other governors point to their strategic role. Dave Greenwood, a chair of governors in a Surrey primary school, says: "The PTA may make the most immediate impact but I would hope that the focus on targets, processes and priorities makes more difference to achievement and provision over time.

"It is like the age-old office whinge of not noticing if the managers aren't around. For a while things would carry on but then they would gradually start falling apart."

PTA members and governors are likely to be drawn from the same pool of concerned parents, the question comes as to where can they make the most impact: funding a pool or a minibus, or quibbling over a few percentage points on a centrally-imposed LEA target?

The choice, as they say, is yours.

Ben Rooney formerly chaired the governors of an Essex primary school. He is now chair of the PTA.

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