Revolt of the jam-makers

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Pat Denison answers your leadership questions.

I am head of a primary in a fairly affluent area. For years, the PTA has been a thriving, enthusiastic body with a hard-working committee. It raises around pound;5,000 a year and we are always appreciative.

Lately, new governors with a business background have been seeking extra revenue. The school now gets funds from the National Lottery; the local estate agent pays for advertising space on our website and parents can claim Gift Aid if they make voluntary contributions.

However, certain PTA committee members are unhappy with this "aggressive"

fund raising and are threatening to close down the organisation. They also complain about falling staff participation in their social activities, which they interpret as another sign of lack of interest. How can I persuade them of the value of their work while continuing to welcome this extra, substantial funding?

This is an example of unforeseen consequences of what many might see as progress. Your PTA has doubtless worked in much the same way for a long time, raising money for the school through huge amounts of commitment and dedication.

PTAs all over the country are, as I write, preparing for their annual Christmas fair, rounding up reluctant stall-holders, urging parents to refresh rusty craft skills, persuading local shops to donate raffle prizes and sending small children home with books of tickets to sell to their resigned families.

Your committee may be forgiven for going about their business, not with cheerful bonhomie, but rather with the grim-faced resentment of those who know they are doing too much for too little. Small wonder, then, that they feel undermined by the somewhat cavalier approach to increasing the school's revenue shown by you and your governing body.

You might have avoided hurt feelings and put-out noses, if you had involved your PTA committee from the outset. Setting out your stall, sharing your vision and plans for enterprise, and being inclusive in initial brainstorming may have generated a different response. The PTA committee itself might have appreciated the invitation to the party, contributing creative ideas and no doubt offering to play a substantial part in the growth of this new venture.

Now is the time to consider different approaches. Had you done a survey of your parents, you might have discovered that a much smaller proportion of women are stay-at-home mothers, with the time and inclination to bake cakes, make intricate Christmas crafts and spend precious leisure time manning a stall.

Parents might well prefer to make regular contributions to the school through charity gifting, and might plump for popping a cheque in an envelope rather than having to shell out for Christmas clutter that they don't want.

It's not too late, though, to extend that invitation to come and sit round the table for an open discussion. You, your staff and governors and the members of your PTA committee would do well to articulate just how each sees his or her role.

If you run the meeting on Chatham House rules (where the identity of speakers cannot be revealed after the meeting) so individuals can speak with honesty and respect for the views of others, you might get some real insights.

How do your staff feel about being expected to spend evenings and weekends fund-raising? Members of the PTA committee, on the other hand, might reveal that they love taking part in such activities, and parents may express huge gratitude that barn dances, skittle evenings and quiz events are organised for them.

And of course, there is no doubt that all this effort and engagement will result in enhanced provision. The school benefits from high-quality facilities, the community pulls together in common endeavour, staff are able to work with some decent tools and materials and children flourish.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email pdenison@thevillageschool.demon.co.uk

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