Volunteering crisis in local schools - free-loading parents?

(47 Posts)
LProsser Thu 27-Jun-13 09:38:13

I've had some very worrying conversations lately with teachers and parents from local primary schools in Teddington and Twickenham. In one large sought-after primary school the PTA is about to collapse because none of the 1000 or so parents are willing to take on the responsibility of running it. The retiring committee have found it more and more difficult to get parents to volunteer to help with events and have found some parents react with hostility and/or ridicule at being asked to. It seems these parents aren't capable of understanding that the money raised by PTA events is becoming more and more essential to their children's education, and that school events are important for the children in showing them a sense of community. One teacher told me that she now has far fewer parents coming into volunteer with reading so the children who are struggling are suffering. Another teacher said she was shocked when the class rep refused to organise a card for a family that was leaving as she said it "wasn't in her job description"! Yet the coffee shops still seem to be packed! Are these just isolated problems or is there a new generation of free-loading parents in our local schools? Is it because schools are becoming so large the sense of community has been lost? Has helping out at school become deeply uncool because of mocking comments by comedians and chick lit novels? Interested to know what people think.....

Nelsonelson Thu 27-Jun-13 12:20:18

We are noticing the same thing when asking for volunteers at Brownies and Guides. The same people come forwards and many do not want to volunteer. A great shame because teaching children about the importance of a community and supporting those around you is an invaluable lesson. Sadly I think many people feel they can afford to buy the help they need so aren't willing to volunteer. So much for the 'Big Society'

DonsDrapers Thu 27-Jun-13 17:25:40

Is it possible that in many families 2 parents are in FT work? It's likely with the size of the mortgages around here.

Or, the ones that are not working have 2/3 kids and little time to help out. Maybe their DHs work long hours in the city (to get the £££ to allow one to stay at home) and they are frazzled by the evenings.

Not a lot of families here have relatives close by so childcare is difficult.

I think there are probably logistical reasons rather than ethical.

FWIW I'm a SAHM who would love to volunteer and infact will be with a local nursery when DD starts. I'd do more if I didn't have a large wedding to organise too.

It's hard to offer up your free time to volunteer if you have not had a meal out or trip to the cinema with your DP for over a year!

BayJay2 Thu 27-Jun-13 18:44:09

I'm with DonsDrapers on this one. I think local people are very stretched. Once their youngest children start school they tend to go back into paid work. Some are lucky to be able to work flexibly from home, and may be able to spare some time to help, but not many have that luxury.

One thing I'm certain about - teachers and PTAs moaning about the problem and sending parents on a guilt trip doesn't encourage more people to help ... it just puts them off further. Gotta keep smiling if you want to be attractive.

I also think PTA's need to think about whether they're truly inclusive; perhaps survey their parents to see what they think. Do they really reach out to Dads, people who work, single parents, families with language barriers etc in a way that can include them? Do they dampen people's enthusiasm by rejecting new ideas out of hand that don't fit their mould? Do strong incumbent teams set the bar so high that it intimidates those who might consider taking up the baton? I've heard there's a charity that can help PTAs to self-assess whether there's more they could be doing to bring people into the fold.

At my DC's school, they recently brought in a rule that said parents couldn't volunteer in their own child's class. I can understand the reasons for that, but I don't think it helps, as many people are motivated by wanting to keep an eye on their own child at school.

Ringogo Thu 27-Jun-13 19:14:49

You have raised so many issues with your sanctimonious post that it is hard to know where to begin.

Do you seriously think the entire Richmond schooling system and community would collapse without PTAs and Mum volunteers? Is it really that fragile?

You'd be amazed to discover that schools in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods are able to deliver any education at all given they will have PTAs (if they even exist) that make a fraction of the funds that are made in our own borough's ones.hmm

If people want and are able to help out then they will. As it happens, my own dc's school has a thriving PTA. I think it is largely because the head is very vocal in its support and ensures that all the staff support all the events and activities. It will always be hard to recruit committee members but that's because people often have other commitments and mortgages and frankly it's a huge undertaking. The schools might be bigger but that just means that the events become even bigger and more daunting to organise. What it doesn't necessarily mean is that there will be more SAHMs with time on their hands. The new families moving into the area typically have eye-watering mortgages that need to be paid off somehow.

But you can be absolutely certain that the best way to destroy the community is by self-righteously telling people that they are free-loaders if they don't or can't volunteer.

LProsser Thu 27-Jun-13 21:00:53

Agree with most of all of your points - headteacher and staff support very important and many people very busy/stressed - but most events are at the weekend and most meetings in the evenings and everyone has email so not impossible to participate if you are working. Did not say the school system would collapse Ringogo but local PTAs are now raising money for things that used to be funded by the local authority and which parents expect like computers and even repairing the toilets, and parents volunteering in schools are playing an increasingly essential role as there are not enough TAs and TAs may be further cut in future. Schools in deprived areas also have problems obviously but may have more funding per head. Although no normal charity should sound cross and gloomy and still expect to recruit volunteers who had no particular reason to get involved, I think it's understandable when everyone has a stake in what's going on but some put in a lot more effort than others and then face abuse when they ask for help. Not sure if accusations of free-loading have actually been made face to face in the playground but sounds like it is heading in that direction.

BayJay2 Thu 27-Jun-13 22:01:20

"Not sure if accusations of free-loading have actually been made face to face in the playground but sounds like it is heading in that direction"

Blimey. That will seal their fate. Suggest you have a word in their ear before that happens!

When I see the amount of effort that goes into organising something as big as a summer fete, and the mixed emotions that rouses in parents (even the ones who do volunteer), I do wonder if one day someone might suggest we all just write a large cheque made out to the PTA and have a spontaneous picnic in the park instead. Maybe just for one year, to see if anyone really misses it :-)

Ringogo Thu 27-Jun-13 22:39:43

This is the problem of course when your PTA raises over £70K/yr - the LEA gets wise to it and cuts the school's funding. So it hasn't really achieved anything apart from ensuring that the next group of suckers will have to make as much money the following year.

I helped organised one event (nothing as big as a Summer Fair even) and it was ridiculously stressful & time consuming. Just the thought of doing it again makes me shudder. Bayjay's big cheque and impromptu picnic sounds much more enticing!

People who work and have children rarely have time to help in any great capacity. Their evenings and weekends will be needed to unwind or just spend with their families. You should just be grateful if they turn up and hand over their cash at your events. But I doubt they'll even bother to do that if people start calling them "free-loaders" in the playground!

muminlondon2 Thu 27-Jun-13 22:50:43

There seems to be fewer volunteers as PTA reps when there are bulge years. Think it's called the 'bystander effect'!

But volunteering during school hours to work with children or go on trips (while much appreciated - and increasingly relied on) can't really be expected of everyone, and is not the same as volunteering at weekend/evening PTA events.

LProsser Fri 28-Jun-13 09:00:58

Bay Jay - I no longer have children at primary (and I was only a moderately involved helper rather than on the committee when I did which is probably why I genuinely enjoyed it!) so definitely not going to be standing in playgrounds stopping parents fighting - I think a lot of it's going on by email anyway. However I keep getting told about declining involvement which is why I wondered if this is a general trend locally. Big picnic on school field and cheque would be fine by me too. But there are still some parents around here with very little spare cash to hand over and I don't think the financial issue is going to go away with state schools budgets from Government/local authority shrinking and their size expanding. Events like fireworks' night bring in lots of cash from the public aswell as parents. I think there will be another stand-off about academy status for local primaries soon too with threats that they will get even less money if they refuse to convert again.

I suppose the other thing that I don't think is emphasised enough is the career-enhancing aspects - lots of parents (usually mums) wanting/needing to change their work life once they have kids. Have seen quite a few use it to gain experience that helps them go onto new work as a teacher, school administrator, accountant, events' organiser with charities, self-employed etc. Maybe that would nudge a few more to get involved?

Heathclif Fri 28-Jun-13 10:59:39

Having got involved in so much volunteering in schools I considered having the word "No" tattooed on my forehead I would definitely support bayjays idea of a check and picnic. Indeed some of the best school community events i have been to have been picnics.

I also agree the issue is one of leadership and culture. If it is (to use an overused word wink) inclusive and fun parents will want to join in but sadly PTA s seem rarely to pull that off and it is only the parents with a sense of duty who get involved. IME there are plenty of parents prepared to sit back and let others do the work and then moan about it. Call me cynical but I have done the costumes for two Year 6 productions experienced the best, mucking in and having fun achieving something together, and worst, parents crying on the phone, being manipulative or aggressive to get the best costume for their child without being prepared to lift a finger or fork out any money. One set of parents / grandparents were so angry that their daughter ( one of the brothers in Joseph) would not look glamorous in the production photos that they sat at the table looking like the glums, giving staff and volunteers filthy looks throughout the performance, and the thank you bouquets mysteriously went missing shock

I also worry about the message we send to children when so much effort and money goes into raising money for, effectively, ourselves.

The best school community project I was involved with was a child led charity project. The year 6s decided which charity, developed a plan in conjunction with the charity and led it's implementation, and they involved the parents in the way they saw as most effective. They were incredibly successful and saw the concrete good they did via their efforts. No fetes, or Quiz nights but lots of utilising their parent's resources, and getting parents and children working alongside each other in the charities warehouse to achieve their objectives.

BayJay2 Fri 28-Jun-13 12:40:19

"I no longer have children at primary .."

So what's the story at secondary LP? I heard Orleans Park have a voluntary contribution scheme. Do other local secondaries do the same?

Setting aside the fundraising factor, do parents still get involved in school life at secondary level? Is there a social scene? It's something Turing House particularly wants to develop, so it would be interesting to hear about similar initiatives in other local secondaries.

Heathclif Fri 28-Jun-13 13:58:42

Bayjay The schools my daughter has attended have had quite active PTAs with summer picnics, drinks etc. but they are very much social events for parents, although the PTA at my daughters new school did revamp the school fair to make it actually appeal to teenagers.

Part of the issue is that after 11 children organise heir own social lives with minimal parental involvement (though probably not as minimal as they would like !!) so you do not get to know other parents as well, unless you make a proactive effort which you will only tend to do if you have other things in common. So the extent of involvement tends to vary from year to year and class to class.

Parents though are kept at arms' length from the pupil's school life. I think there are pros and cons. Having come from a school run by parents where parents were involved in every aspect of school life and I am quite sure enriched it, it came as a bit of a shock but then I came to appreciate that since they are adults in training it is good that they have a community that is their own and separate from home and parents.

muminlondon2 Fri 28-Jun-13 17:47:33

LProsser: 'I think there will be another stand-off about academy status for local primaries soon too with threats that they will get even less money if they refuse to convert again'.

Is that speculation? There may be pressure on certain individual schools where there is a forced academy order from the DfE - but I don't think the LA is in a position to force all schools to jump ship so the position hasn't changed. No sign that Christ's is converting to academy yet either so the financial incentive can't be a big draw.

Less than 5% of primaries in the country have converted voluntarily (a further 1% are sponsor-led). I can't see the advantage (for children - for the council it's a big offloading of responsibility) despite initial bribes. Primaries have smaller budgets than secondary schools, harder to get economy of scale, there'd be more admin. They'd have to form a federation or join chains to get any buying power - and how would all the VA schools be a part of this?

It has gone rather quiet on certain fronts though and no more committee/forum meetings till end of September.

LProsser Sat 29-Jun-13 10:58:03

Lots of points here!

Heathclif - I used to think "why are we raising all this money for a middle-class primary school" but over time realised it was increasingly for things like paying for children whose parents were on benefits/very low incomes to go on school trips, including expensive ones like Yr. 6 residential activity holidays, and that that one fund needed thousands of pounds per term for a large primary. This was slightly hush hush as obviously no one wanted to draw attention to the fact that some people had a lot less money than others. Also the other stuff PTA paid for became more and more core to the needs of the school eg. buildings maintenance and less and less "nice extras". But charity cake sales, sponsored walks etc did still continue aswell. I think the PTA did a great job trying to be jolly and reach out to people with the "you can still help even if you only have half an hour" approach but at the end of the day these PTAs are charities and they have to have officers (chairs, treasurers etc. ) to be legal so if no one will do it they have to stop operating.

Bay Jay - does Orleans have a contribution instead of a PTA? Teddington has a PTA (run by a single mother with 3 teenagers who also runs her own business!). I gather Teddington had to re-energise its PTA when it moved as money ran out to buy equipment for the new building so they did some big events like art auctions. There are now quite a lot of social events but many run jointly with teachers and students also helping. PTA tends to do things like the bar and door. I am sure Turing House will have a good response from parents as you are a new school and they will all be Yr. 7 so hopefully still in the habit of helping.

Mum in London - I was told the push for Richmond primaries to become academies would start again soon by a Lib Dem Councillor. Presumably after next year's local elections if Tories get back in. Although it's not common nationwide I think that's because most councils don't want it, but Richmond aims to be a "commissioning only" council. If primaries resist again perhaps they will try to get big chains in to run them. Not sure how PTAs fundraising fits into this model. Good to do some thinking about it now!

BayJay2 Sat 29-Jun-13 16:42:18

"does Orleans have a contribution instead of a PTA?"

They have both. See here.

BayJay2 Sat 29-Jun-13 16:54:14

Waldegrave has a voluntary fund too, thought the suggested contribution is less than Orleans. They have a PTA too.

I like the idea of Waldegrave's 50/50 club ... make a regular donation to the school but with a lottery element. That's exactly the sort of idea that can help schools raise funds even when people are too busy to organise raffles with paper tickets, sent out to all parents, returned in envelopes with cheques, that have to be taken to the bank, and ticket stubs that have to be individually folded and put in a box, to be drawn out at the school fete, to win a prize that people have spent many hours phoning round local businesses to rustle up. smile

BayJay2 Sat 29-Jun-13 18:45:53

"to organise raffles with paper tickets ..."
Not that there's anything wrong with that if people enjoy doing it, but if its a case of "We need a raffle, because we always have a raffle, but who's going to organise it? Shock, horror there are no volunteers..." then it might be time to move on.

LProsser Sun 30-Jun-13 13:29:54

Does the contribution system mean that parents are not asked to contribute a few pounds each time there is a special event eg. visiting theatre company? Teddington has a 50/50 club too but not to the exclusion of other raffles etc. Orleans is lucky to be able to make so much money out of carparking but must take the emphasis off regular social events.

BayJay2 Sun 30-Jun-13 21:58:45

"Does the contribution system mean that parents are not asked to contribute a few pounds each time there is a special event..."

Don't know the answer to that, but it would make sense, and save a lot of administration. I think my DCs school must employ someone full-time just to open envelopes and administer permissions slips and cheques!

BTW, if you thought OP's suggested contribution was a large one, check out Tiffin's!

muminlondon2 Mon 01-Jul-13 09:35:14

Wow, BayJay, that is so interesting! £520 per year, per child??!! It's certainly not just subsidising ski trips for their poorer pupils because they hardly have any.

So, as Tiffin only has 46 boys out of 1075 whose parents have been eligible for FSM in the last 6 years that's potentially £535,080 per year they're getting from parents. And they can claim pupil premium on those 46 disadvantaged kids so £41,4000 should cover a week's skiiing in Val d'Isere.

No idea how much the government gives them because it's not reported but if money otherwise retained by the LA is meant to be about 10%, and other schools are getting about £6,000, that should just about double their money.

Mooselover Tue 02-Jul-13 09:38:36

I'm currently a member of a local primary PSA
We also struggle to
Get parents to lend a hand at events etc .
We have a solid group of parents who do get involved and we are eternally grateful for that ,
And a great set of class reps but when the Xmas and summer fair comes around , the hardest part is recruiting parents to man the stalls . We eventually get enough parents but it really us the most stressful part of running events as gaps aren't generally filled until last minute
As we have a very wide range of different family backgrounds that attend the 'writing a cheque' suggestion probably would not go down too well , we'd do get donations from some parents which is fantastic.

A lot of parents are unaware of what the monies raised is spent on . They don't realise that it's the PTA that has paid for furniture , books , sports kit , landscaping etc.
we are now making our parents more aware , and miraculously more parents are now stepping up and offering their services .

muminlondon2 Wed 03-Jul-13 21:10:36

LProsser back to your point about a renewed push to convert primary schools to academies. A briefing paper on converter academies suggests only one LA in the country has more than 30% converter academies. So it is not a popular or well tested move. I think schools have got enough in ther plate with changing budgets, tougher Ofsted framework and new progress targets, curriculum, school-based teacher training, etc.

LProsser Wed 03-Jul-13 22:14:42

Mum in London - I agree, but if you aim to be "commissioning only" then having hundreds of primary teachers on your books when you are outsourcing everything else must be a tad aggravating. I suppose they might also be thinking that they need to interest one of the better chains of provider in taking over before they are busy somewhere else. I'd imagine Richmond primaries with their good results would be quite an attractive proposition.

muminlondon2 Thu 04-Jul-13 00:08:10

But stacked with talented staff/governors and demanding parents who see through political spin grin

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