Michele Kavanagh is a mum of two and co-Chair of St Margaret Clitherow Primary School PTA, a position she has held for a year. She is a caseworker for Tom Tugendhat, the MP for Tonbridge and Malling, a role which sees her supporting members of the local community to find solutions to the problems they present, ranging from education to health, the environment and many more areas.
When did you decide to get involved with your school's PTA?
Right from Reception. I thought it was important to support the school, and it seemed like a great way of giving something back. My sister already had kids at the school and was involved in the PTA, so she took me along to my first meeting.
How would you describe your school?
It’s a family-oriented school of around 370 children. It’s very international and diverse, culturally, ethnically, and in terms of children’s faith.
What do you do for a living?
I am a caseworker for Tom Tugendhat MP for Tonbridge and Malling. My job is a bit like being an agony aunt - I get to advise people in our community, listen to their problems and help them to find solutions. Every day is different. I can be dealing with issues such as health/NHS, ageing population, transport and education to helping someone deal with a bees' nest. It’s a very rewarding job. My role has a particular focus on Education & Health. I can be fighting for someone to have access to the right medical equipment, such as a specialist wheelchair, to helping with school waiting lists and supporting parents applying for EHC Plans (Education & Health care plan) for children with special needs. Depending on the case, Tom may be in a position to escalate or follow up and work with Kent County Council to move decisions along.
What's your favourite part of the job?
Being able to support local people. It’s a very rewarding role. I get a real sense of achievement when I can help someone find a solution to a problem they are having. I enjoy working with people directly, by doing house visits, for example.There are so many issues right on our doorstep that I wasn’t aware of. It’s good to be able to help someone.
Did you know much about politics or your MP (Tom Tugendhat) before you started working for him?
I remember seeing him at local events such as the Remembrance Day parade. I have always been a local supporter. My husband and I both have an interest in politics, and I did a degree in International Studies at Uni.
What was the biggest revelation about politicians?
Definitely the amount of hours they put in. I had no idea! They work until 9-10pm daily. Tom's work is so wide-ranging and includes local constituency issues, dealing with local government, working as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Westminster events, party commitments and media. There is a lot of hard work in the background; and in their personal dedication to the job, helping make things better for people locally. It’s definitely more of a calling than a job.
What was the biggest revelation about parliament?
The place! There are people scurrying around everywhere getting things done. It’s when you stop and think about the impact this is having - the power to make things better for people - it’s quite amazing. Also, listening to speeches and debates - the passion in the room is incredible.
What’s the most interesting thing about working for a politician?
Seeing how they work on a daily basis and how they get everything done. I don’t know how Tom does it! I do have to remind him to have his lunch more often than not. That, and to wear his tie!
Has your view on education changed, now that you work for an MP?
I didn’t appreciate how much an MP can be involved in education. Tom went to an event to open a new local school, but he also gets involved in individual cases. He visits all schools in his constituency, meets with local head teachers and is on the Board of the Trust at a local secondary school.
What opportunities are there for PTAs to engage with politicians?
There are so many ways to engage. Tom judges competitions. He goes to schools to support events. You can also write to him or visit for any issues to raise. If you have something to celebrate or some great project to showcase, MPs are always interested in supporting local groups and volunteers.
And individual parents?
Parents can also contact their local MP with any issues to raise. You can write to your MP or visit one of their surgeries (days to meet with local constituents), although you might need to make an appointment. Recently, Tom supported parents and schools who were trying to improve the transport situation for students getting to schools by bus and train, especially on more rural routes. MPs also offer work experience for students, something to mention to your kids, if they are interested!
What is the craziest thing that has ever happened in your work with Tom Tugendhat?
I never thought I’d get to go and visit a sewer! You really never know what will come next- his diary can be pretty crazy at times.
What one piece of advice would you give to a PTA who would like to engage more with a politician but doesn’t know how?
Get in touch! They are always interested to hear and support local groups. You can find details on how to contact your local MP on the parliament website.
Has working with Tom Tugendhat changed how you think about the role of parents in education?
It has really made me aware of the important role we have as parents. Sometimes as a parent you can be a bit in a bubble in your local school. Working for an MP you have an insight into the wider community, and it has made me realise the huge positive impact we as parents can have on our children’s education.
Has being a PTA chair changed the way you think about parents' role in education?
Building a school community is really important to help everyone feel included and engaged, and I think PTAs have a big role to play here. The summer fair is our biggest event. It was hard work organising this year’s, the first one I was fully in charge of with my Co-chair, but it was worth it seeing the difference we made. And I don’t mean just in raising funds for the school, but also contributing to us creating a community for our children to thrive and feel safe in, where they can develop into the best people they can be. As parents, we are crucial in helping our children thrive in partnership with the school and teachers. We not only have a role to play in loving our children and supporting our children at home, but also being part of the community that helps our children learn and reach their potential - be that by being on the PTA committee or just attending events when we can. No matter how much or little we are able to give in time, every little makes a difference to our kids!
For more about how parents can use their voice in education, see our 'have a say' section, or 'get involved at school', and for regular updates on education news and opportunities, follow us on Twitter.