How volunteering can aid your child's progress in education
Joining a PTA is about so much more than fundraising, reports Lisa Salmon, who talks to the charity PTA UK about the value of getting parents involved with their children's schools
Dropping children off at the school gates is as much contact as some parents get with their child's education. But parental participation in education has a direct impact on how well children do at school, whether that be primary or secondary. And that's why PTA UK, the charity which supports parent teacher associations (PTA) nationwide, is urging more parents to get involved with their child's school, for both the good of the school and their child.
Michelle Doyle Wildman, policy and communications director at PTA UK, explains that the positive impact of parental involvement in their child's education can range from volunteering to reading in the classroom, telling the class about their career, accompanying children on school trips, helping to raise funds, or contributing to discussions about school policy.
She says: "Evidence tells us how much parents matter, and we know that parental participation in education has a direct impact on how well children do at school.
"So, knowing how much mums and dads get out of it too, we want to encourage everyone to take the plunge into a PTA in 2017."
A recent survey of PTA UK members found PTAs raise an average of £7,000 a year, with a quarter raising more than £10,000. The money has been spent on resources including books, playground equipment, tablets and school trips.
"Some people only associate PTAs with fundraising, but there are many, many other activities involved," says Doyle Wildman.
"Yes, showpiece events like school fairs help resource important extras for the school that otherwise it wouldn't be able to afford. But what's driving the parents in the PTAs is that they want their child's school to be brilliant, not that they want be a fundraiser."
Doyle Wildman says really successful schools have parents, teachers and children collaborating with a PTA.
"PTAs are a force for good in all our schools," she says.
"Sometimes it's money, but sometimes it's effort - it's about parents physically supporting the school in many different ways, and PTAs are the main coordinator of parent volunteers in any school."
Parent volunteering can be anything from welcoming new parents into the school, to selling second-hand uniforms and organising reading in class for younger children.
"PTAs do all these things," says Doyle Wildman, "and it's a bit unfortunate that their reputation seems to be mainly about fundraising, when they do so much more."
Mothers tend to be much more involved with PTAs than fathers, but Doyle Wildman points out: "Dads would love to be more involved and they sometimes struggle, but if they have IT skills, for example, they could use them to help the PTA, rather than manning the tombola at the school fair.
"They can support the school less in the playground and school and more at home in the evenings."
PTA UK has found its volunteers spend around three million hours a year helping in schools nationwide - roughly equivalent to £20m worth of time invested in children's education that wouldn't be provided in any other way.
But as well as helping to improve their child's school, the research found that parents engage with schools because they enjoy spending time with other families at school-organised events such as fairs, quiz nights and parties.
"If you want to volunteer, but fear you're going to be roped in forever and it's going to take up too much time, it doesn't have to be that way," promises Doyle Wildman.
"You can help for one hour a year if you like, or an hour a week. Getting involved in whatever way you can makes a massive difference to how kids do at school.
"As much as you feel you've got a lot on your plate, there's a lot to be won by getting actively involved. It sends a great signal to kids that their parents value their education."
■ Reading: As well as reading with your own child, spread the joy by offering to read with other children at school. Research shows you can achieve similar benefits by talking to older children about social and political matters.
■ Ask for information and contacts for the PTA at your school office.
■ Join your school PTA, parent forum or board of governors: If you're enthusiastic about your school, your child is also likely to be - that's role-modelling at its best.
■ Be a virtual supporter: If you can't help in person at school, there may be plenty you can do to help on your laptop, like setting up the class or PTA Facebook page, or responding to e-consultations or surveys.
For more information, visit www.pta.org.uk