PTA through the years

Members past and presents talk about their experiences of being on one school's PTA

Iford and Kingston CofE Primary School lies in the village of Kingston near Lewes in East Sussex. The school has had a PTA since at least 1965, when it moved to its current site, having been based in the nearby village of Iford since 1872. We talk to some of the different people involved with the PTA over the past 50 years…

The beginning

Colin Finn was PTA chair in the 1970s: ‘In those days, there were under 100 pupils,’ he says. ‘Virtually everyone came from Kingston and the immediate surrounding parishes. In the latter part of the 1960s, the PTA raised a lot of money to build a swimming pool behind the school, which was a wonderful facility. A lot of the dads were involved, and a group of them made a brick wall for the children to bounce balls off.’

The 1980s: May Fayre

‘When my husband took over as treasurer in the 1980s,’ says former PTA member Caroline Fry, ‘the swimming pool had already lasted for double its recommended life. The school needed more space, so the PTA raised funds to pay for a substantial brick structure, which was built on the site of the dismantled pool. Known as the Owl House, the building was used as a library, and for music and singing, but for legal reasons couldn’t be used as a classroom.

‘The bonfire night event was our biggest fundraiser, but we wanted to add a regular summer event to the calendar to help pay for the Owl House. There was already a village fete in the summer, so we chose to hold a May Fayre. We always had to be careful to avoid FA Cup Final day, when many dads would be otherwise engaged.

‘The PTA would send out a weekly note, and the head always put our news in the school newsletter. If there was an event, most people would volunteer because it was jolly and a good way to make friends, as well as helping the school. Back then, classes were split differently each year. The parents mixed more because the children often moved between groups, so you always knew a lot of people. I think it made it more sociable. We were all very hands-on: when the hall needed painting and decorating, the PTA formed working parties to get it done.’

‘It was great – a chance to meet new friends and join in. I loved listening to people’s ideas and finding a way to make parents’ views heard.’ Caroline Fry

The 1990s: Fun and friends

Bruce Adams was PTA chair in the mid-1990s. ‘The Owl House hadn’t long been built when I took over, and the school needed help getting it finished,’ he remembers. ‘For six months, PTA members would turn up every Sunday morning and get stuck in. Once we’d finished inside, we built pathways and landscaped outside too. The PTA also funded a set of playground equipment and new library books.’

By now, the May Fayre was an established part of the fundraising calendar. ‘As well as maypole dancing, we’d have welly-wanging, sponge the teacher, beat the goalie, and lots of races. One year, despite a good forecast, it poured down, and we decided to bring the whole fair into the hall. We even set up a bouncy castle in one of the classrooms.

‘In October, we’d start preparing for bonfire night. A local farmer would collect garden waste and wood from villagers, with a horde of children on the back of his trailer. The PTA would then construct a huge fire. One year, I was manning the PA, playing some slow music for a fire dancer. In the darkness, I accidentally pressed the wrong button. The audience tried not to laugh as she desperately adapted her routine to fit the speedy, humorous theme of The Benny Hill Show. They still won’t let me forget it!

‘Old pupils and their families would often come back for bonfire night, which was by no means a school-only event. Some residents loved taking part in the PTA and wanted to be more involved, so we decided to become a Parent Teacher and Friends Association to allow supporters to stay with us.’

‘The PTA was a wonderful way to get to know people. We had a lot of laughs and made it fun for ourselves as a committee.’ Bruce Adams

The 2000s: Social PTFA

‘When I was the chair in the mid-2000s, the school didn’t have many requests,’ says Jeannie Lawrence. ‘That was a challenge itself because we wanted to spend the money we’d been given before the donors left the school community. Several temporary classrooms were long past their best, but funds to replace them had to come from the council. We were able to donate some money to our partner school overseas.

‘We held meetings in the school hall, but it was cold and uninviting. One of the first things I proposed was that we move them to the village pub, whereupon we miraculously grew in numbers! I always found it easy to get people together with the promise of a chat and a drink afterwards. I’d walk up to parents in the playground and engage them in conversation. If they seemed open to the idea, I’d informally suggest they come to a meeting. If they came a second time, we more or less had them hooked.

‘In my final year, it became harder to engage some parents. As the school grew in size, people came from further away. Coming back to Kingston for PTA meetings and events was less appealing to them. I once asked a parent if she had an hour free for the May Fayre, and she told me in no uncertain terms what she thought of the idea – extremely loudly and in front of 20 little ones!’

‘It was one of the most enjoyable times of my life, I have to say. We all remain friends and often talk about our times and experiences.’ Jeannie Lawrence

The 2020s: Digital PTFA

A major extension in 2015 saw the Owl House integrated into the main building. In 2019, the PTFA paid half of the cost of a new playground.

‘I took on the role of chair last October,’ says Zulehkha Waheed. ‘There was uncertainty around how Covid guidelines would impact the school, pupils, parents and PTFA. We held a small, socially distanced handover in the pub, which was allowed at that time, but meetings quickly moved online.

‘In the absence of our much-loved bonfire celebrations, a PTFA member organised our first-ever Zoom event. “Lighting of the Beacons” was a free event designed to bring light and warmth to the community. We asked families to light up their houses by any means possible, from tea lights to bonfires and sparklers. We also held a Zoom disco, and my co-chair organised a firework-themed bake-off.

‘During the pandemic, we have been trialling a new way to communicate with members, using the Slack messaging platform. We’re using Facebook Marketplace to give unwanted items a new home, and we’ve set up new ways for parents to donate without handling cash. Once the pandemic subsides, the PTFA will take on an important role supporting pupils’ overall health and wellbeing.

‘I live outside of Kingston, and I’m aware that it’s the first time an Asian single parent has taken on the role of chair. I think it’s important for young people to see that everyone is different and that we all bring a different kind of energy to what we do. I’m hoping to unite people and help them see things from another perspective. I’m already thinking about how we might observe different festivals and celebrate other cultures.

‘People know they can approach me, and I’ll listen objectively. Being chair also helps me find the confidence to approach the teachers and open up the conversation.’

‘My team have pulled together in such difficult times. Children need to be able to relate to the world at large and it’s important that they see the PTFA represents us all.’ Zulehkha Waheed