Within the school community, there are many groups working towards the same goal: achieving the best education for the children. But it can be difficult for each to comprehend the other’s motivations and actions. Connecting with the governing board can help the PTA understand the school’s requests and priorities, avoiding frustration and disengagement.
Elizabeth Collin from the National Governance Association (NGA) says: ‘The overarching role of a governing board is to ensure the wellbeing of the children in the school and enable them to achieve to the best of their ability. Governors and trustees are responsible strategically for long-term goals and setting the school’s culture and values.’ There are three core functions:
- Developing a vision and strategy. Identifying what the school wants to look like in five years and planning how to get there
- Overseeing the financial performance of the school or trust, making sure the money’s well spent
- Holding the school leader to account to ensure that all children get the best possible education.
The NGA believes there’s also a fourth function: ensuring the voices of pupils, staff, parents and the school community are heard.
Most local authority-maintained schools have a single governing board. At Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) there’s a board of trustees, and most MATs have local governing bodies operating as local, school-level committees of the trust board.
There are several types of governor: Parent governors are elected by a ballot of parents, staff governors are elected by the staff, and co-opted governors are appointed based on the skills, experience or perspective they can bring to the board. Depending on the type of school, there may be other types of governors and trustees too. For example, a local authority-maintained school will have a local authority governor, and a voluntary aided school will have foundation governors who are there to preserve the school’s religious aspect. At most schools and trusts, the headteacher also has the right to be a governor.
Elizabeth Collin says there’s no reason someone shouldn't be a school governor and also on the PTA committee: ‘It’s a common misconception, particularly about parent governors, that they are there to be the voice of all parents, and that's not the case. There isn’t really one parent voice – they’re there to bring their experiences as a parent at the school and their unique perspective and knowledge of the school to the board. So having someone on the board who is also part of the PTA can be a good opportunity for the governors to engage with parents and bring in that person’s perspective, but they aren’t there as a representative of the PTA.’
Life as a governor on the PTA
Sian Broughton joined the PTA committee when her son started in Reception at Althorpe & Keadby Primary School in Scunthorpe, and became an elected parent governor six months later. ‘It was a low point in the PTA’s life,’ she says. ‘At the AGM, only one parent committee member was continuing and no one else wanted to stand up. From just the two of us, we’ve now grown to nine committee members. When I heard about the opportunity to join the governing board, I actually thought it suited my skills better. I wondered if I might come off the PTA, but I’ve ended up doing both. I’m now the PTA treasurer and the chair of the Resources Committee, which is a sub-committee of the main governing board.
‘As an elected parent governor. I had to be nominated and seconded, but because there were no other people standing for election, I was appointed automatically. Individuals need to keep the two roles separate, to understand the significant differences and responsibilities of each and be clear where each one starts and finishes.
‘Although we’re in an area of deprivation, the PTA only funds things that are over and above what would be expected of the school. When we are asked to pay for something, we have our own decision-making processes. If a teacher who was also on the PTA put in a request related to the children they teach, we wouldn’t allow them to vote on that because there’s a conflict of interest. We’d ask them to leave and discuss it as a group. That rule would apply to me as a governor too. The PTA has also previously applied for grants to fund a woodland at the school for outdoor education, developed a cycle library where the children can borrow bicycles and for a whole community Queen’s Jubilee event working with other local community groups.
‘Being a governor has helped me develop a wider understanding of the needs of the pupils, particularly around SEN children. The PTA has started holding some quieter events so those children can be included. Having better insight into the aims of the school also helps when we are looking at funding workshops and wellbeing activities. If we know what’s being done by the school, we can work out how to better support those activities.’
According to the NGA, governors can expect to spend ten to 20 days each year on governance duties, including board meetings, visiting the school and reading papers.
If no one on your PTA wishes to become a school governor, ask if any governors might be prepared to act as a link to the PTA. They might not be involved in everyday fundraising, but could attend some meetings and discuss their role with the committee.