school classlist

Chair: St Mary's C of E School

Lisa Smith-Walker, St Mary's CofE School, Truro, Cornwall (210 pupils)

Running your PTA

  • How many people are there on your committee? 9 members
  • How long have you been Chair? 2 years
  • When is your busiest time of year? The summer term - the summer fair takes a huge amount of planning. The welcome sessions for new parents, organising leavers' hoodies, and our end-of-year disco take up time, too.
  • When is your quietest time of year? Early spring - this is our recovery time after Christmas, before the real work towards summer begins!
  • How hands-on are you as a Chair? I am very hands-on. There are certain tasks that are delegated to volunteers but I organise the events and oversee most of the activities
  • What is your relationship like with the school and the staff? In the past the relationship had been very difficult, but thanks to good communication we are now on great terms with the school.

Tips and advice

  • What advice will you pass on to your successor? I would say that things often take a long time to organise, so leave plenty of time to get events approved by the school and planned out properly. Facebook has been controversial but essential in gaining support and volunteers - parents are an amazingly skilled and helpful bunch if you ask!
  • What do you wish you'd known before becoming Chair? The amount of time it takes up. I really needed a proper handover with an explanation of structure, charity status etc.
  • What have you personally gained from being Chair? I've gained a much wider social circle, and I've met a huge amount of parents and staff that I wouldn't have crossed paths with otherwise. My children love that I am the Chair and organise the discos, school fairs, etc.
  • What is the best thing about being Chair? I love seeing the children's reactions to events and being able to buy lovely things for the school.
  • What do you think makes a good PTA Chair? Communication with other parents, committee and school! Flexibility and ability to cope with the stress that events bring are important, too.

Challenges in the role

  • What challenges have you faced? Taking on a PTA that had no structure, constitution or committee and getting it back on track was tough. The first piece of post I was handed was a 'red letter' from the Charity Commission, threatening to remove our charity status, as our paperwork was three years behind! Luckily, some of the parents helped me with the backlog and we are all above board now.
  • What is the most daunting task you have to undertake? The role as a whole! The PTA at our school was waning when I took over, and spoke up at the AGM that I was able to help out, but unsure in what capacity - before I knew it I was the Chair! At that point the constitution was lost, the books were a mess and the committee was non-existent.
  • Have you ever had an instance where you have had to challenge the school's decision(s)? The PTA and Year 6 parents really liked the idea of leavers' hoodies, but the school was worried about pupils' names being visible, and didn't think the hoodies were creative enough. So I tracked down a graphic designer on Facebook who was willing to design the backs of the hoodies with the students, making it creative, personal and anonymous! The school loved the revised plan and we plan to do this again this year.
  • Have you ever had an instance where an Officer was not fulfilling their role, and was refusing to step down? The Treasurer in post when I took over had not completed the books or Charity Commission paperwork for three years, didn't check emails, come to meetings or answer their phone. One of the more experienced PTA members offered to help complete the paperwork and together we all discussed their role and possibility of him stepping down - it was agreed and I think he was quite relieved!

Boosting support

  • How do you go about recruiting volunteers for events? Emails are sent out about events and the help we need for them, and volunteers reply. Facebook has played a major role on boosting our numbers, volunteers and support - there were three people on the page when I took over two years ago, but there are now 105. I make 'PR Boards' showing all of the events, plus how and where the funds raised have been spent.
  • How do you welcome new families to the school? Year R parents are invited to an information session at the school that we attend and have a 'stall' to hand out details and gather email addresses.  We include flyers to our summer fair in the information packs that the school sends out to new parents, and put posters up in the local nurseries that feed into school. We have First Day Teas for the Year R parents on the first morning for new Reception children; the parents are invited to join us for a cuppa after drop off, tissues provided!

Stepping down

  • How long do you intend on being Chair? It depends when you ask me! Just before the summer fair, I'm never doing another! At this time of year, I'm thinking that I might stay on a bit longer.
  • Do you intend on having your successor shadow you in the role, before you step down? I'm not sure if they would shadow, as even when I step down I won't have gone far. Hopefully I will always be available to offer any advice and continue to lend a hand.

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