What do you picture when you imagine a PTA? A group of mums chatting in the playground? A gathering of women planning the summer fair over a coffee? But times are changing, and with work patterns becoming more flexible and childcare shared with dads, grandparents and friends, maybe it's time to mix up your PTA and get a more diverse bunch of people involved. Just think of what you could achieve with all those extra volunteers…
Experiment with holding meetings at different times of the day and make it clear that everyone is welcome. If you're planning to survey parents add a question directed at dads to discover what time of the day would work best for them. John Adams from parenting blog Dadbloguk.com says: 'PTAs can be incredibly welcoming and recognise the contribution dads can make. But it's true that many dads work full-time and struggle to attend committee meetings held during school hours or to help at events held straight after school.'
If you would like to attract grandparents, how about writing a letter addressed directly to them, which could be sent home in book bags and passed on? Members of the local community can be reached through local newsletters, parish magazines and social media. Identify specific jobs that would be suitable for the groups you're targeting and ask as directly as you can.
To get dads to dip their toes in the PTA, put out a call for jobs that may appeal more to them. Could they help make-over the school garden, repaint the shed or lend a hand on the barbecue? Nick Roe, PTFA member at his daughter's school in East Sussex, says: 'I joined when we moved to the village to get a better understanding of how the school worked and to meet like-minded parents. There are two other dads who regularly get involved in the PTFA: one is the treasurer and one looks after event logistics.'
Try running an event that will appeal to men in particular. 'PTAs need to make sure dads know they are welcome at social events,' says Adams. 'If events aren't promoted as being open to partners, men are unlikely to attend. That's a missed opportunity because then the dads don't engage with the PTA.'
Find something locally that has a big male audience on which you could draw. For example, you could approach your local football team about holding a football fair with matches, activities and speakers from the club. Activity-based events, such as a LEGO building challenge or a recycled craft challenge, are an excellent way for families to connect.
Once you have a captive audience, be sure to hand out information about what else they can do, why the help is needed and what it will achieve.
Tip: Hold a meeting outside of usual PTA hours once a term so that people who wouldn't usually be able to attend can come along.
More and more grandparents are helping out with childcare, so it's a natural transition for them to become involved in the school community - you may be surprised at how many are already on your playground. Senior supporters potentially have more time to contribute than their offspring, but they aren't just an extra pair of hands.
With a lifetime of experience, many grandparents have specialist skills and expertise to bring to your committee: a retired accountant would make the perfect treasurer,
for example, and an experienced seamstress might like to run your second-hand uniform shop. Grandparents will have established networks of local friends, so as well as gaining new members, you could attract more event attendees too. Whatever role they play, inviting grandparents to participate actively gives them the opportunity to share their time and talents in a way that benefits the whole school.
Making friends: Your governing document contains information about who can be a member of your organisation. Usually, only a PTFA or Friends Association will allow people who don't have children at the school to become members. Only members can hold elected roles on the committee.
Put your school at the heart of the community by inviting local residents to join up. Appeal for help through social media and by writing letters, or, for maximum impact, hold a targeted event. Take a look at what's happening in your community. If you don't have a local cinema, could you run a movie night? If a comedy club has shut down, try holding your own comedy night.
Spread the message at your event and make sure attendees know how much you've raised for the school and what you're planning to do with it. Show them what you buy and the impact it has on the children. If your fundraising project will also help the community as a whole, promote this to get even more people on board.
If you have a local Lions Club, Rotary Club or Women's Institute, speak to them to find out how you could work together. You may be able to exchange experience, facilities or equipment, or borrow volunteers for big events.
When appealing for help, try to tailor the job to the person - it's not just about how well they can man a stall at your fair...
- Organisational skills lend themselves to planning fundraisers, making volunteer rotas, creating schedules and putting together event guides.
- Secretarial skills mean the ability to take minutes or organise communications.
- Writing skills are fantastic for appealing to businesses for sponsorship.
- Design skills will come in handy for putting together posters, flyers, newsletters and event programmes.
- DIY and maintenance skills are ideal on open days when renovating areas of the school. They also come in handy for making games and props for events.