If you read my twitterfeed you might have noticed some moaning about the PTA. If you pay too much attention, you will have noticed a lot of moaning about the PTA.
This all started in January when I put myself forward, or at least failed to step backwards, as Chair of the PTA. Since then, planning has lurched into events which have lurched into clearing up and then the whole cycle starts again. This however is not the blog where I want to talk about how the PTA works.
PTAs have a bad rep. PTAs are a pain. Yesterday a friend asked me “Why did you do this to yourself?” This is the blog where I want to answer that question.
Why am I Chair of the PTA? Putting aside the obvious answers around the theme of being the kind of fool who can’t say “No”, there are genuine reasons why I think it’s important to have a PTA and why, when faced with the option of having no PTA at school, I agreed to be Chair.
1. What are your best memories of school?
Mine are of school trips, the school discos where we all did the “Superman” dance (it was the 80s) and stayed up past midnight, the Fete where me and my best friend would spend hours on the swing boats and the Pantomime where the Deputy would always play the role of the Dame. And all of these events and many more were made possible by the PTA. I wouldn’t want a generation of kids to go without the experience of making themselves sick on Dandelion and Burdock at the School Disco, or not have a gift from school to mark their leaving. The PTA provides the fun stuff. That’s worth doing.
2. There are holes in the ring fence.
Here comes the political bit. Education funding is not good at the moment. The government’s promise to maintain the Education budget is not, strictly speaking, being kept. Increasing numbers of schools are having to make redundancies and, at a County level, Support Staff are having their salary cut. Schools no longer receive their budget annually, but are allocated money on a monthly basis. Like pocket money. Altogether, this leaves many Headteachers, including ours, in an unenviable position. Something’s got to give. So far ours has done a great job of keeping all the Staff and resourcing the learning, but there is no room for extras. Things like playtime games, a new stage, and trips to the panto at Christmas can’t come out of the school budget. This lack of funding, especially when coupled with the funding going to Free Schools, enrages me. It made me angry enough to join the PTA, and also have a right go about Free Schools (here).
The PTA can, and must, fund these things. Experiences like being in a play on a real stage are key parts of school life. We all remember from age 5 who got to be Mary (for the second year running just cos she had long hair and it wasn’t FAIR) and performing is good for kids, it’s good for the school community. So are playground games. Busy kids are well behaved kids. Bored kids will invent all manner of destructive games, so it’s nice to be able to afford to buy tubs of skipping ropes, balls, stilts and hoops. Thank you PTA for calmer, happier playtimes. And the opportunity to see CJ off of Eggheads in Panto.
Schools are not just buildings full of kids (actually they’re lovely when they’re not full of kids, but that’s another story), they’re communities in the best sense of the word. And communities need to get together and blow off some steam. Or they’re simply a load of people trapped in the same space, building up their hatred of each other by the day. Our PTA manifesto (manifestos are more fun than Mission Statements) isn’t just about fundraising, it’s about improving the life experiences of the children. It’s about pulling everyone along in the same direction. It’s about Events. It’s good for kids to see adults all working together to create something that’s fun. In teaching circles we call that modelling and it helps children learn how to get along together. The PTA also gives the children the chance to fundraise, to help their school and other charities and to learn the importance of giving back. And if that’s not Citizenship in action, I don’t know what is.
4. Broadening Horizons
In an effort to find novel ways to part you from your cash, PTA’s offer some great activities for kids: ice skating in school, Chess clubs, being published in a book, modelling in a fashion show, making a scarecrow, fancy dress competitions, talent shows, fireworks displays. These events take children out of their everyday routine and give them a chance to discover new loves and skills. For some kids, school is their only chance to get this stuff.
So, however much I gripe about the PTA and my place in it, I come back to this. The PTA does an important job. We do it for our children, and to support our teachers. Sometimes we’re a damn nuisance, sometimes we’re bossy, sometimes you wish we’d all go away: I feel like that most days. You’d really rather not send in donations to the tombola or pay £1 for non-uniform day or buy another raffle ticket or hang around on a Friday night waiting to collect sticky discoers.
But schools need us, now more than ever. So, if it helps, think of us as a Fairy Godmother saying to the kids “You SHALL go to the Panto!” and think of how much the kids love all this stuff even if we don’t. Then just take a deep breath, smile, and open up your wallet. There now, that didn’t hurt a bit, did it?