Dear Ted

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email:

Ted says

It is hardly surprising that those who have run their socks off to prise money out of fellow parents might seek to influence how it is spent. Unfortunately, a real difficulty arises if their choice is not approved by the professionals involved - the head and teachers.

The problem is a little like buying wedding presents: the happy couple will be much less happy if they end up with 10 toasters and no towels. One strategy, therefore, is to draw up a wish list with plenty of less expensive items on it, as well as more ambitious ones. This can be done in consultation with parents, so they feel party to the exercise, and the school's real needs can be explained.

If parents are left out of the decision-making, they may feel so disgruntled that they stop collecting, a loss all round. If nothing is explained, they are thrown back to their schoolday memories, and think about nursery rhymes, fairy stories, trips to the seaside and box cameras, whereas the school might want a whiteboard, a digital camera, CD-Roms and DVDs, plus a laptop or two.

It is best for all parties to be clear from the outset what is to be done with money raised. It is much easier to collect money when donors can see what their cash has bought. None of us likes dropping money into a general fund. There is always a feeling that the Government should be doing that.

Proclaim publicly what parents have bought, with - if it is a fitting - a plaque of some kind. List gifts in a newsletter or magazine. Goodwill is easy to keep but devilishly hard to win back once lost.

Set a target

Instead of waiting for the parents' group to raise funds, why not set them a target? (You do it for their kids.) Tell them what you want, how much it will cost and how much money you can put in the pot - then challenge them to raise the rest.

Valerie Wilkinson, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Show them how it's spent

There should be clear understanding and agreement between parents and the school about what the funds are for. Parents are entitled to assurances that the money is prudently allocated. Itemised accounts of revenue and expenditure should be publicly displayed. Just as we choose whether to put our donation into the tin for cancer research, a donkey sanctuary or gentlefolks' aid, so parents should be able to influence whether their money is spent on a staff beano, paying for the head's friend to play with plants under the guise of "gardening in the curriculum", or on loos, books or class outings.

Gill Tweed, south London

Do teachers always know best?

The parents' group wants to decide how the funds are spent? And on what would they spend this dosh? Bungee jumping equipment? A PTA subscription to a box at La Scala? No, they probably want to spend it on equipment for the kids. The money might not be put to the same uses as teachers would choose, but do teachers always know best? A parents' group is not a cash cow to be milked at the school's convenience. Accommodate their priorities, thank your lucky stars you have such a committed group and treat them as an end in themselves, rather than as a means to other ends.

Ian Glencross, Abergavenny

Bid for funds

If a group of parents and friends raises money, it is surely for them to decide how to spend it. If they are "dictating", it shows relations between the school and families are less trusting and happy than they could be. In my daughters' secondary school, every department is supplied with forms to "bid" for funds, with brief details and costings. All are considered, with advice from the head about the benefits to the school. A committee then decides whether to fund completely, part-fund or defer a decision. Often we agree funds on the understanding that the department concerned gets involved in some way with a future event.

Christa Day, Surbiton, Surrey

Share ideas, share the success

It is much easier to persuade people to part with their cash for a specific project rather than see it disappear into the black hole called the school budget. Focus on building up a good relationship with these parents. Share your ideas and priorities, especially the morale-boosting resources such as playground equipment, ICT resources and maths games. Let them know how much the extra resources mean to the school and celebrate their success with them.

April Beckerleg, Buckinghamshire

Write a shopping list

I was chair of a successful PTA for seven years, raising thousands of pounds a year. We worked as a team with the staff; the association had a bank account and became a registered charity. Each term we requested a shopping list through a staff meeting, and the money was apportioned by a committee after consultation. We gave pound;500 to buy library books - using money from our paper recycling scheme - and pound;700 towards the cost of the Year 6 residential trip. The PTA should never ride roughshod over the staff's wishes, but the head should remember that dictating terms to volunteers causes resentment. They might give up on the partnership.

Judy Sleath, Nottinghamshire

Coming up: I knew my interviewer

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