I found myself laughing loudly at this very familiar article yesterday from last weekend's Guardian.
Entitled 'Sponsorship money, raffles and more bloody cakes': were's the fun in fundraising? it outlines the author Claire Mackintosh's adventures in the school PTA, the endless cake sales, fêtes and fundraisers, and contemplates the possibility of paying NOT to be involved in it all.
I have done a hearty stint in my kids' school's PTA and a lot of what she talks about rang a very familiar bell. The same set of people doing all the work, the same people turning up to the events, paying well over the odds to buy back your own cakes, the pleading with other parents to get involved/donate/bake/turn-up. It can all seem relentless and on many occasions frustrating and pointless. So much so that I have stepped down from the committee, to be an active supporter but not a meeting-attending-event-planning-member as I was struggling to combine it with work. Every time there was a big event on Lolly-Pop made dark mutterings about the time/energy it was taking, and whether it would be simpler, quicker and cheaper to just make a chunky donation to the fund and stay at home instead....
...but this would be missing the point entirely. The role of our school's PTA, and of PTAs in general, is two-fold. Yes, there is the very real need to fund-raise. There is also, however, a need to build the community of the school, to bring families into that community and make them feel part of their children's school life, to create a calendar of social events to be enjoyed. It is hard work, and it is often unrecognised and unrewarded, but it is really valuable.
I was really struck by this comment on the article by Emma Williams of PTA UK:
For those parents reading this who are about to embark on the school journey, the good news is that Claire Macintosh’s witty, but slightly depressing account of PTA life is not the full picture. The BIG message is that PTAs are not all about baking cakes; it's about showing children how to get involved with a community in a selfless way, with parents as partners of the school, working to support their child's education. Sure, fundraising for schools (our members raised £120M for schools last year) is a part of this, but actually it’s all about enhancing children's learning and wider school experience.
If your child sees you actively participating in their school, showing that you care about their school life, then it makes them care more in turn. In fact, research shows that “the effect of parental engagement over a student's school career, is the equivalent of adding an extra two to three years to that students education”. [John Hattie, Visible Learning 2008].
So handing over the cash just doesn’t quite cut it. That is why 75% of our schools in the UK have PTAs and why PTA UK is striving for a PTA in every school.
The good news for the PTA volunteers, is that we hear the cries for more help. Over the next 12-18 months, we are launching a number of initiatives to speak out to parents to tell them how important it is to be involved. Watch this space…….
On a personal level, I have loved having opportunities to be at the school while it is in it's usual busy day-to-day state. Seeing the staff and children getting on with school life is hugely insightful and has meant that I know many of the staff and teachers by name and they know me. In a large primary school with over 500 children, that's pretty rare. My kids have been able to see first hand how important I think their school is. They have also seen how to volunteer and give your time to something you believe in.
More than this, I have made friends. Brilliant friends. My comrades from the PTA front-line were the first friends I made within the school, and they remain some of the best. Those evenings spent filling jam-jars with plastic 'treasure' and wrapping teddy-bears in cellophane were often hysterical fun, the endless cake sales were often accompanied with laughter, the friendly faces in the playground were always invaluable.
If your child is starting school this September, and you have any time to spare, I urge you to get involved with the PTA. Play to your strengths: if you are good at spreadsheets offer to do the accounts, if you are good at baking, bake, if you are good at organising, offer to sort out the PTA cupboard of supplies (I bet they have one!). Or just be enthusiastic, and you will be welcomed. You will make friends, you will feel part of your child's school life, and you will have opportunities to influence how things happen within your child's school. It will be worth the effort.
And if in doubt, use this recipe, it's stood me in very good stead over the last 7 years.