How will people remember your PTA? As an organisation they were part of – one that welcomed and included them – or as an anonymous group who raised funds from a distance? It takes guts, but your PTA will do better and achieve more if it challenges stereotypes and opens its heart.
'Following the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we saw a sharp increase in interest,' says Berkeley Wilde, executive director of The Diversity Trust, who has spent the past 30 years campaigning for equality. 'Organisations that hadn't engaged before were asking what they could do to create an inclusive culture and starting to understand why it needed to be done. It's also important for young people to experience acceptance and understanding.'
Rachel Khan, chair at Friends of Culvers House in Sutton, South London, believes diversity is part of every organisation's responsibility to society and school is where it begins. 'For many, primary school will be the first time a child really gets to join in with a community wider than their own family,' she says. 'So it's vital that both they and their family feel included in what the school does, and the PTA is part of that. It's in our constitution to advance the education of pupils in the school, and you can't say you're doing that if you're not including all the children who attend your school and, by extension, their families,' she says.
'Nothing about us without us'
'Equality, diversion and inclusion (EDI) aren't just about box-ticking,' says Wilde. 'While there are things you can do to get the conversation started, what's really needed is a cultural overhaul. Let the word "respect" underpin everything you're trying to do. Get to know the people in your particular patch: are there asylum seekers, Roma families, foster carers or people in financial difficulties? What colour, shape and size are your families? Only those who have experienced lives and cultures truly know the challenges – this is known as "lived experience". So make sure the topic is led by those who have actually experienced life as the minority. EDI can't come from one person on the PTA – that's exhausting; effecting social change is everyone's responsibility. It needs to be embedded in every PTA role, come from the head and be part of the school curriculum.'
Everybody is welcome
At Elm Grove Primary School in Brighton, new PTA chair Becs Kent is putting inclusion at the heart of what the PTA does. 'Our school community isn't the most racially diverse, but we have a broad range of financial circumstances. We also have a lot of different family types in terms of size, siblings, sex, gender – all kinds of relationships, and we need to make sure no one is excluded from anything we run because of that.'
'It starts with the school, and our head teacher is amazing,' says Kent. 'She'll suggest a topic for discussion and put time in her diary so that parents can have a face-to-face chat with her. Last year, our local council developed a Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit and rather than put it in a newsletter, she shared it with parents in a way that enabled them to ask questions and feed back. The PTA also has a close relationship with the two members of staff who form the school's Inclusion Team.'
'In 2018, the school held an inclusion audit which identified the cost of uniforms as prohibitive for some parents. Now, the PTA and Inclusion Team sets aside some donated essential items such as winter coats for those most in need. The identities of these families are kept confidential, and the PTA doesn't have access to it.'
This year, Kent will be working with The Real Junk Food Project, an environmental charity which redistributes surplus food from across the food industry. Her aim is to provide a free fruit snack for all KS2 pupils. 'Some of our children are going hungry, but we don't want there to be a stigma attached to receiving a free snack. If it's available to all the pupils, everyone benefits because there's a better atmosphere in the class and no one's too hungry to learn.'
Start a dialogue
By starting honest and open conversations, a PTA can understand what the community needs. Perhaps something has always been done a certain way, but the participants have changed. Does the PTA hold an event that doesn't sit well with different faiths? Are there SEN pupils who need extra help or families who can't afford the ticket price?
'We've found we need to give a lot of notice of our events so that people who need to plan finances, work or childcare can attend,' says Rachel Khan. 'We also don't mention "mum" or "dad" in our events. There are so many different family situations in our community that it feels too prescriptive. Doing a lot of raffles or making events very boozy wouldn't work well for our community either,' she says.
Becs Kent agrees: 'We've stopped selling alcohol when children are present. You can't tell if families are living with alcoholism or perhaps they don't drink for religious reasons. When we run events and fundraisers, we make sure every child can join in: for our tea towel fundraiser, every child receives one tea towel so no one misses out. We ask for extra donations and families who are able to, give more; in our children's raffle, each child is given one free ticket, and there isn't an option to buy more, although we encourage extra donations from those who can afford it.'
Expand your pool
At last year's AGM, the PTA voted in Rachel Khan's proposal to appoint a volunteer coordinator to recruit a more diverse pool of helpers that's reflective of the local community. 'A large part of it will be getting up and talking to people we wouldn't naturally gravitate towards. It's easy to chat to your usual group of friends, but we need to cast our nets wider. Having somebody specifically tasked with this will make sure it happens.'
Becs Kent is focusing on the 2022 football World Cup as a way to incorporate different cultures and bring in a few more dads at the same time. She's liaising with the school to develop events based around the last 16 countries in the tournament that the school will support with classroom learning.
Call to action
'One of my favourite quotes is "Action has to come from those who have the power",' says Berkeley Wilde. If you're in a position where you can make a difference, do something, and if you get overwhelmed, there are a lot of organisations and resources out there that can help. Create an inclusion policy. It doesn't have to be long – a page of A4 is fine. The important part is to make it really visible and make sure everyone signs up to it.
'Get it down in writing that your association won't tolerate discrimination,' says Rachel Khan. 'Be clear about it so that everybody is on the same page. I'd be heartbroken if anyone went away feeling that what we do isn't for them. If they feel like that, we're doing something very wrong. After all, making everybody welcome means you have more people to celebrate with you, more people to fill your dance floor, more people to buy your raffle tickets, more people to donate delicious cakes, and that leads to more fun for everyone.'
- The Diversity Trust diversitytrust.org.uk
- Improve your organisations' approach to equity, diversity and inclusion knowhow.ncvo.org.uk/organisation/equity-diversity-and-inclusion
- Equality and diversity policies for small groups resourcecentre.org.uk/information/equality-and-diversity-policies-for-small-groups