We often receive calls to the PTA-UK Advice Line from PTA committee members who are struggling to engage parents to participate in events and activities. When we asked if the PTA has tried talking to parents about why this might be there is usually a stunned silence.
Many PTAs can chug along in the same vein for many years without ever stopping to think about consulting with their target audience - parents.
It is easy for a PTA's activities to become stale or for too much to be expected of parents in terms of the time or financial commitment. Talking to your parents will help you identify if there are any significant issues preventing more parents from getting involved.
Be brave and get the ball rolling. It may mean that your association will have to give up some of what it does which is familiar and much loved but you will only be successful if you manage to get parents involved.
Schools will often survey parents annually. Talk to the school to see if it is possible to include some additional questions about the PTA and its activities. You could help the school by obtaining prizes so that all returned questionnaires could be entered into a free draw prize.
It is always good to talk to parents in the playground but this doesn't really work for secondary school PTAs and will always exclude working parents. And this isn't a one off activity - talking to parents is something that your association should plan to do regularly. It is best practice to feedback to the participants the results of any survey and what you plan to do as a result.
Getting to know parents and their needs is probably more of an issue at secondary school where a parent's relationship with the school changes significantly. Children don't want their parents in school for numerous events and activities and often parents are simply not present at the school at the beginning or the end of the day.
It may also be that a parent has different needs of a PTA once their child is at secondary school. An increasing number of PTA-UK members are starting to provide secondary parents with information and guidance evenings, aimed at helping them deal with the issues that they begin to encounter as their children become teenagers. These usually include drugs and alcohol, sex, career choices and courses.
• open a dialogue with parents to understand their needs and if there are any significant issues preventing participation
• work with the school to utilise its communication with parents. If the school is planning to survey parents ask if it is possible to include some questions about the PTA and its activities
• remember to feedback the results of any survey to parents and suggest what will happen next. Also, make consulting with parents a regular activity