Parentkind in Norther Ireland - Jayne Thompson interview

Who is Jayne Thompson?

I am married, having just crossed the 20 year anniversary mark (how he has put up with me, I have no idea!)  We have two beautiful children – Dylan (19) and Meghan (17).  Dylan is currently studying to be a lorry mechanic whilst holding down a full-time job, so hats off to him. Meghan is studying four AS-Levels at Enniskillen Royal Grammar School. Home is in picturesque Fermanagh, just outside Kesh, so you understand why I am not always so keen on a 9am meeting in Belfast!

How long have you been working for Parentkind and what was the highlight for you?

Oh goodness, another long period of time – 10 years. I guess I should also ask my colleagues how have they put up with me?!  To give you one highlight is just too difficult. Maybe if I give you one of the first highlights and one of the more recent, would that be OK?  

Go for it…

When I first started in Parentkind NI (then known as NCPTA) we had the Gold Star Awards scheme. During the first year in London for the awards ceremony I had no NI finalists. I was not a happy bunny because when the English and Welsh finalists and winners were called out, I knew our PTAs could easily match and surpass their activity. So the next year, I ‘canvassed’ (‘tortured’!) NI PTAs to apply and such was the response and standard of our applications that the Trustees decided that first, we needed our own Regional Awards Ceremony, which took place in Queens University Belfast, with Basil McCrea MLA and member of the Education Committee at that time. Then all the regional winners travelled to London for the national ceremony, and lo and behold, didn’t NI lift half of the gongs there also! A very happy and proud Parentkind NI representative travelled home that night! Then in more recent times, when we were completing the evaluation on the Building Stronger Communities through Volunteering in Schools, the evaluator (CENI) asked the parents in one school what difference had volunteering in the school made for them.  Simple question, but the response from one mummy moved me to tears, and still when I watch the video and she repeats the same or similar, my eyes still prick. This is what she said that day, “I no longer am just mummy. I have an identity now beyond mummy. I know I make a difference and I want to do more.”  That day, that statement sealed the success of the project for me. 

Jayne you are a very driven person, but what has kept driving you for the last ten years in your role?

Firstly, I have always throughout my ‘mummy life’ been striving for stronger parental engagement with children’s learning and with schools. I am a firm believer that education is not a one-way street: parents have equally as valuable a role in supporting their children’s learning as teachers have. When parents and schools work together, not only can children really reach their academic potential but parents are more confident in parenting and helping their children with their school work.

Working for Parentkind NI, I have been and am driven by the PTAs themselves. I have been fueled by their energy as they continually strive to grow the activity within their PTA, improve practices, engage more parents and work in partnership with the school to bring benefits to all parties.  I have observed magnificent growth not only in the number of PTAs in NI but also in their management and structure.  It fills me with delight as I read the funding success stories of PTAs because that is one area of activity that I have been urging PTAs to undertake since I started.  Back then hardly any PTAs were applying for funding, now there are more applying than not.  One year, out of the five UTV People’s Millions fund, two of the winners were PTAs, each bagging £50,000. They have been a great inspiration to others to follow suit.  

Over the last five years, I have become more determined to generally engage parents in education. In some schools, the level of parental participation is huge, and it is in these schools that you feel the buzz. You read their school inspection reports and you smile, delighted that the inspectors have recorded what you already know. People use the phrase ‘hard to reach parents’ and I sometimes wonder - should it not read ‘hard to reach schools’?  My drive today is make sure every school enjoys positive partnership with parents. I understand that some have experienced challenges in the past that has led to nervousness, but I am dedicated to bringing about change and having parents as partners in education. 

How do you relax?

(Laughing loudly) I think you should ask my husband that! He will tell you if I am not working, then I am running or I am helping out one of the many other organisations that I volunteer for. I started a running club – North Fermanagh Fitness Club, a few years ago and last year our membership reached almost the 100 member mark, so that takes quite a bit of work, but I am supported by a brilliant committee.  We do a lot of charity work with the club and the highlight last year was raising almost £8,000 in memory of a local girl who passed away for the NI Children to Lapland Trust. Being blessed as I am to work for Parentkind, they give me three volunteering days each year and I used one of them to help the Trust take the children to Lapland in December 2016. If any of you are thinking about joining us for a run, not a bother – 8am every Sunday morning at Old Castle Archdale and don’t forget to bring a cup, because when we finish, we always have tea and buns! I think it would be fair to say that I run in an attempt to burn off all the lovely bakes the PTAs offer me every time I visit.  
I am keen volunteer and believe that everyone of us have something to give to help others. 

L-R Jayne Thompson and NFFC Chair in Lapland with NFFC Treasurer Ciara Virtue. 

Any faults?

(Laughing again) Too many to list. A personal problem/fault I struggle with – I am always striving for perfection and failing to remind myself that just sometimes, good is good enough!  

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