Dear Ted

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Our head won't allow our primary school to have a parent-teacher association, as the likely founders, she says, are stroppy parents pushing their own kids' agendas. Are there any benefits to these groups?

Ted says

There are thousands of parent-teacher associations all over the country.

The odd one is a pain, but most make a positive contribution to their school and community. Parents can feel frustrated about their children's education, and the PTA is one body that can help lubricate relationships between parents and teachers.

If the motivation of those parents seeking to set up a PTA is questionable, then this issue must be explored from the beginning. Every school should, with or without an association, have procedures for parents to express their concerns and worries. Most children tell their parents little about life in the classroom. The school may have burned down, the head eloped with the deputy, but all a parent gets when asking what happened at school, is a cheery "Nothing much, same as usual."

A review of research into the role of parents by Professor Charles Desforges of Exeter University shows that the best contribution to their children's education is the help and support they give at home. This is not an argument against setting up a PTA. Different associations have different purposes. There are schools where the PTA provides a social programme in areas where there is not much to do. Others raise money, run events, welcome new parents, or advise those with problems. The best provide a friendly place for a whole community to value education.

Your school should review current opportunities for parents to find out about their children's education or express a concern, and explore with parents what is needed. If a PTA is not the answer, what might be better? "Stroppy" parents could shop you to Ofsted one day. Supportive friends are better than angry dissidents.

You say

Parents are part of the community too

Speaking as someone who would probably fall into your headteacher's category of "stroppy parent", I would advise others (parents and teachers) to steer clear of schools that do not have active PTAs. I have found to my cost that a school that does not trust parents to be involved in an association is also unlikely to listen to parents in other areas of school life. A school is a community and parents should be as much a part of that community as the pupils, staff and governors. A headteacher who is worried about what "stroppy parents" have to say probably has a lot to hide.

Maria Morgan, Newbury, Berkshire

Think of the money

PTAs raised pound;68.5 million in the year to September 2004, an average of pound;5,400 per school (TES, September 24, 2004). They have paid for computers and software, sporting equipment, school grounds projects and subsidised school trips.

It is better for parents to talk in school than at the school gates.

Working with a PTA is a valuable opportunity for heads to listen to parents, and try to work with them. This doesn't mean that parents will always get their own way.

Janey Hewitt, Birmingham

Unite in your common aim

Home and school associations are an invaluable way to involve parents. Yes, there could be those who want to abuse it, but in 35 years I have only seen three situations where it might have happened, and these were satisfactorily resolved. A successful PTA supports communication, and when parents and school are united it provides a secure environment for pupils.

Parents who might have caused problems can become strong advocates of school when things are explained to them. We share a common aim and must do all we can to involve them.

Joe Buchan, East Yorkshire

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