Troubled parent group flails again

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Julie Read and Biddy Passmore report on the meeting designed to heal the rifts in the National Confederation of PTAs

The troubled National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations has once again failed to reach agreement on its future.

The confederation, which has about 11,000 member schools, called a special general meeting last Saturday. Intended to agree an action plan, the event is understood to have degenerated into procedural wrangles and personal attacks.

After almost three hours, the meeting at a south London school broke up without having discussed the action plan at all, even though some delegates had travelled from as far as Devon and Cumbria to vote.

Some accused the trustees of failing to give them enough warning of the meeting, thereby making it almost impossible for them to attend.

However, Judith Wood, chair of the NCPTA, said the meeting had resolved some problems and that the organisation had now reached agreement on how to move forward.

The action plan was drawn up by the trustees last August in response to the highly critical Charity Commission report on the management style of the parents' group. Yet a considerable number of member schools had apparently still not received either the plan or the commission's report by last weekend.

The commission made some 34 recommendations in its report, concluding that the charity had "no overall strategy or direction" and had "allowed itself to be side-tracked by internal disputes which have created rifts within the organisation".

The plan accepts the recommendations, which call for a complete restructuring of the organisation, the appointment of a new chief executive and the introduction of proper management and accountancy procedures.

Former NCPTA trustee Sean Rogers, who stepped down from his post after his complaints about how the charity was run had been taken up by the commissioners, said he felt frustrated that so few delegates had seen the action plan. "It meant that we attended the meeting without any idea of what we should be voting on," he said.

In the event, the meeting is said to have been taken up with other matters, notably sorting out how many of the 50 people present were eligible to vote. Four delegates were reportedly refused permission because the membership cheques from their schools were said not to have arrived in time.

Cumbria Federation of PTAs and Ullswater Community College Association, represented by parent member Margaret Hunt, were annoyed that the meeting was held so far away, making it almost impossible to get there for 10.30 in the morning.

"What is even more bizarre is that the invitations to the meeting were slipped into the cover of the European Parents' Association magazine, a week before Christmas, which meant that not everyone saw it and therefore did not book, " said Mrs Hunt.

Judith Wood told The TES that the invitations been distributed by a mailing company. She said she had given schools far more than the minimum notice of two weeks. As for the time and place of the meeting, she commented: "It's a very long way from Cumbria. If you live in Lewisham, it's very close."

Mrs Wood said the trustees were "very disappointed" there had been no opportunity to discuss the action plan but that they would now be preparing a new one, to be discussed at the annual general meeting on April 19 in Peterborough.

This would be the organisation's own plan and not based on the Charity Commission's recommendations, all of which were now being dealt with, she said.

The NCPTA had not yet appointed a new chief executive because it felt some practices needed correcting first, she said. Lines of accountability and grievance procedures needed to be established. The trustees had commissioned an independent organisation to conduct a strategic review, which should be completed within two months.

But Sheila Naybour, a vice-president of the NCPTA, expressed dismay that the trustees were setting in hand another audit rather than appointing a chief executive.

"It's a headless, rudderless organisation, lurching from one crisis to the next," she said. "If they can't organise a special general meeting, are they to be trusted to undertake a major overhaul of procedures?"

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