What is the optimum number of people on a parent council?
This usually depends on the size of the school. A large secondary school may want to have a larger parent council than a small primary school. It is important that the council is not too large as this can make it difficult for everyone to feel involved and have a say. A good group size is somewhere between 10 and 15 members.
Should teaching staff be represented on the parent council?
It is a good idea to have a member of staff on the parent council so that he or she can answer questions that are raised about school issues. Usually this will be a senior leader. Some schools nominate a member of teaching staff to have responsibility for the parent council, or it might be a parent support adviser. You can also invite a different member of staff to each meeting depending on what is on the agenda. For example, if school lunches are going to be discussed, you might want to invite a member of the catering staff. If you are going to discuss testing, it will be important to involve the staff member who has overall responsibility for assessment.
Is it a good idea for the head teacher to attend parent council meetings?
If the head or a senior leader attends parent council meetings this helps to ensure that all the issues raised by parents will be addressed. It also means that the school leadership hears directly about parents’ concerns and their ideas. However, some parent councils have decided that they are able to talk more freely if a senior leader does not attend, or only attends for part of the meeting. If you take this decision it is important that someone feeds back to the head about what was discussed at the meeting.
Who should be the chair of the parent council?
Anyone can be the chair – however it is important that whoever it is knows how to chair a meeting effectively. It could, for example, be a parent governor or other governor or it could be a parent who has the relevant skills.
How and when is the chair elected?
This depends on the terms of reference, but generally it is advisable to elect the chair each year, perhaps at the first meeting of the year. Alternatively this can be done at the last meeting of the year so that the chair is in place for the new academic year.
What is the difference between a parent council and a parent forum?
Generally speaking a parent council is a representative group of people who meet regularly – perhaps termly – throughout the school year. Parent council members commit to being involved for a period of time, eg a year. By contrast a parent forum may be organised to address a specific issue or question and is open to anyone to attend.
Having said this, different schools call their parent bodies by different names and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Some parent bodies have a completely different name such as Parent Voice Group. Some larger schools have both a parent council and a parent forum. In such cases the parent council decides on the issue or issues to be discussed at the open parent forum meetings.
How do you stop the parent council or parent forum from turning into a “moaning shop”?
It is important that parent councils are tasked with finding solutions rather than talking about problems or issues. There are a many aspects of school life that parents needs to be consulted on but many parents feel that their opinions are not taken into consideration. When parents can see that they are valued and being listened to they are more likely to support the school in a variety of ways, which in turn creates a two way partnership and has a great impact on pupils. Some “quick wins” are a great way to demonstrate their voice is being heard and will encourage more involvement in the parent council.
How can you make sure that one person doesn’t dominate?
The parent council could agree some ground rules to ensure that people are respectful to each other and that everyone gets the chance to have their voice heard. Effective chairing helps to ensure that one person does not dominate the meeting.
Should parent council members be elected?
More often than not parents volunteer to join the parent council. It is important to make sure that all year groups are represented and if not, the parent council or school can approach people to join. An election is needed only in cases where there are too many volunteers.
How can we ensure that the parent council represents the school community as a whole and is not “cliquey”?
Make sure that different sections of the school community are represented – different geographical areas, different year groups and any specific groups of parents such as parents of special needs children, single parents, fathers, parents whose first language is not English, traveller families. If any groups are not represented the parent council or school can make a direct approach to invite someone to join.
Do parent council members need to have a DBS check?
This should not be necessary. DBS checks are generally needed for adults who spend time alone with children at the school – and there is no need for parent council members to do this. If they do go into a classroom, there will be a member of staff present.
How would I choose what topics to discuss at the meeting?
Consult with the leadership team, head teacher and parents to establish topics to discuss. Are there areas of the school that could be improved but the schools does not have the time or resource to work on them? Are there any areas that staff and teachers would like to have some parental feedback on? Once this has been discussed, you can then ask parent council members to gather there suggestions on these areas and bring them to the meeting.
Should the parent council deal with complaints that are made about the school?
Complaints about individual members of staff, parents or children should be dealt with by the head or by the governing board. If a complaint is of a general nature and refers to a matter of school policy it can certainly be brought to the parent council for discussion. The response will need to be made by the head or chair of governors, perhaps following discussion with the parent council.
Does the parent council need to have a constitution or terms of reference?
There is no legal requirement for the parent council to have a constitution or terms of reference. However it is certainly good practice and will clarify the role of this body and ensure transparency.
Does the parent council vote on issues which are being discussed?
It is preferable if the parent council can reach a consensus on issues which are discussed. If this is not possible, a decision may be taken to have a vote. Before voting it is important to make sure that as much information is available as possible. Remember though that the decision making body for the school is the governing board. Any recommendations from the parent council on school policy issues therefore need to be referred to the governing board for a decision. In collaboration with the school, the parent council can make decisions on operational issues.
Are there other bodies that should be represented on the parent council?
It is important that there is a strong link with the governing board so that governors are aware of issues being discussed by the parent council and vice versa. This link can be achieved by having a member of the governing board – for example a parent governor - as a member of the parent council. A link with the PTA (if the school has one) is also valuable. It is a good idea to build a link with the student council and also with school staff – either by making sure that there is representation at each other’s meetings or that notes from meetings are made available so that everyone is clear about the issues which are under discussion. There may be other bodies that you wish to invite on an ad hoc basis depending on the agenda, such as feeder primary schools, a local housing association or other community organisation.
Does the parent council need to hold an AGM?
There is no requirement for an AGM as the parent council is not established as a separate legal entity.
Can any parent attend a parent council meeting as an observer?
Yes. It is good practice to make the agenda available in advance (for example on the parent council section of the school website) so that all parents can find out what is to be discussed. If parents who are not members would like to attend they can be asked to let the school know in advance.
What is the relationship between the parent council and the PTA?
Parent Councils give parents a voice in school decision making. They gather parent views for the school, so they can be taken into consideration in school policies. PTAs work to engage and connect the school community, and raise funds to provide the school with additional resources to benefit the children. PTAs can also include parent voice in their remit, this will need to be written in the association’s objects set out in the constitution. Where there is a separate PTA and Parent Council it is important they keep each other informed of their activities as the common purpose is to improve children’s education.
Are there any issues that the parent council cannot discuss?
A parent council cannot discuss issues concerning individuals (teachers, parents or children). It exists to discuss general issues to do with school life. If an issue relating to an individual person or incident is raised it should be referred to the school leadership.
What information should the parent council keep confidential?
It is rarely the case that parent councils need to keep any information confidential. In actuality, it is best practice if notes from parent council meetings are available for all to read, for example on the school website.