In recent years, more and more PTAs have found it difficult to get one person to take on the position of chair. Many have solved this problem by finding two or more to share the role and become co-chairs. Appointing co-chairs can be a positive experience for PTAs, with the benefits usually outweighing any drawbacks. Co-chairs must work in harmony and trust one another, and clear communication is key.
- PTA committee roles and responsibilities
- Other PTA committee roles and responsibilities
- Succession planning
Consider co-chairing if you don't have enough time to take on all of the role. If your PTA is large and successful, it may require more commitment than any one person can offer. Busy parents and carers sometimes have to put family first, and periods of limited availability are likely. Having a co-chair buddy provides backup for both parties and can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. If one of you has more time than the other, you might take this into account when discussing how you're going to divide the tasks.
Being PTA chair requires a variety of skills. Few come to the role with prior knowledge of running a charity, chairing meetings, event planning and people management, which can make the position a daunting prospect. With little time available in which to acquire new skills, co-chairing enables you to split the tasks according to your talents and experience.
It can be lonely at the top. Many parents feel uncomfortable being the only one and don't want to shoulder all the responsibility. Meeting the headteacher on your own can feel like being back at school. Many co-chairs find it reassuring to have a sounding board for ideas and planning.
Co-chairing is a great way to test the waters. After a period as co-chair, you may find you have the confidence and skills to become chair in your own right. Continuity of leadership and a smooth handover benefit the PTA too. If one co-chair does step down, it's less daunting for someone new to take on the role if they can share it with an experienced person.
Avoid potential pitfalls
- Decide how you will split the workload and stick to it. Roles often fall automatically, but don't assume this will happen. Be careful to avoid duplicating work or missing things.
- Agree who will have the deciding vote if voting were to be tied at a PTA committee meeting.
- Keep decision-making clear and avoid taking up too much time making decisions.
- Plan for the situation where one of you needs to work more or has family commitments that take up your time. What will you do?
- Discuss how you will resolve any issues that arise. For more serious disagreements, check your governing document for a disputes clause and agree to be bound by it.
Jessica Guidobono Good: 'Anna Williams and I have been co-chairs since the autumn term last year and it's been great. We share out the tasks and decision-making, so it doesn't feel like everything rests on one person's shoulders. It really depends on the two co-chairs getting along well and being able to work together effectively. I don't think I could co-chair with just anyone...'
Anna Williams: 'Agreed! The key is finding someone who can complement your skills. We are both good at different things, which makes us a strong team.'
Tamsin Gillard-Moss: 'I've co-chaired for two years with a different co-chair each year. It works really well and takes the pressure off the one person in the chairman position. Having two people meet with the head makes it easier to present a united front, and to report back accurately. Sometimes it can be lonely at the top...'
Laura Smith: 'I am a co-chair and I wouldn't have it any other way! We use an app called Wunderlist, where we add items that need to be done. It's a shared list, so we can both crack on and tick things off. We agree who is going to run the next meeting and that person organises the agenda. We split the events accordingly.'
Jemma Barker: 'I'm a co-chair and it works brilliantly. We each take an event and lead on it with the other supporting. We complement each other: one prefers lists, detail and school communications, the other does more of the promotional/marketing and buying stuff, and parent communications. We agree on any decisions that need to be taken and it works very well.'
'Having three of us gives us the momentum to move forward'
'When our previous chair stepped down two years ago, I was tempted to take on the role, but didn't feel able to manage it all on my own. After asking around among the mums in my child's year group, I found two others who were willing to join me. Although we weren't friends at the start, we have become good friends since we started co-chairing.
Having three of us sharing the role has worked really well, as between us we always seem to have the momentum to move forward. We share the responsibilities and tasks, and are able to step in and out of the role as our home and work lives allow. We all know it's ok to say "I'm not able to do this". If one of us were to leave, it would be easier to recruit another co-chair rather than having to find one person to take on all the duties at once. We take it in turns to chair committee meetings, and choose which of the PTA's projects we each want to oversee.
We communicate regularly – on WhatsApp or in person – and are open and honest with each other. We recognise it's OK to disagree, as long as we have a majority of two of us agreeing. Having said that, we have always found ourselves to be like-minded, so far!
For us to be an effective team, we have agreed our goals and mission statement, and try and work out a plan for each year in advance. This helps overcome any uncertainty and prevents things being overlooked.
Obviously, things don't always go exactly to plan – as living through lockdown has proved! We have been able to adapt, however, via virtual meetings and social media, and have recently supported our school community with online fundraising and a village gnome hunt!'
Liv Myson, co-chair, Friends of Pendragon, Pendragon Community Primary School, Cambridge (379 pupils)
- For further guidance, check your constitution or governing document for information concerning the specific roles and responsibilities of your chair.