Five-Minute Marvels: Building a Parent Council, Building a Community
After a challenging few years, St Nicholas decided to set up a Parent Council, strengthening links between home and school. We take a closer look and how they did it, and the benefits it brought.
Who are they?
St Nicholas C of E Primary Academy sits near the coast in New Romney. With around 340 students on its role, it is a pillar of the community. Unfortunately, following an Ofsted inspection in 2014, St Nicholas was graded inadequate, and in the lowest 10% nationally. Staff turnover was high, and the school suffered from low parental engagement. Since the appointment of the current Head, Mr Dale, in September 2015, the school has been working hard to change this outcome. This led to the creation of St Nicholas’ Parent Council, chaired by Jenny Ross.
“As a former pupil, St Nicholas is a school that’s close to my heart,” says Jenny. “Two of my children attend the school and my third child will be joining them soon.” Jenny is passionate about children’s welfare and education, having worked as a Family Support Officer in the local children’s centre. She’s on track to begin training as a teacher next September, and was keen to support the school in any way she could.
What did they do?
“Mr Dale wanted to create a school where parents would feel included in decisions about their children’s education,” Jenny recalls. “Having successfully implemented a Parent Council at his previous school, Mr Dale believed that we could do the same at St Nicholas, bringing home and school together in a hugely positive way.”
The idea for a Parent Council was initially met with confusion. “We arranged some low key advertising via the school newsletter and spoke to a number of parents,” Jenny explains. “Once they understood that it would enable them to have a voice, the question eventually changed from ‘What is it?’ to ‘How can I be a part of it?’”
How did they do it?
As well as drawing upon the Head’s experience, the team found lots of help from Parentkind. “The online help was easy to follow, and we realised the importance of consulting with — and involving — parents, governors, and staff. There was also lots of advice about things to consider, like what your Parent Council can achieve for your school.
“In the early days, although we had a clear goal, I think our meetings were too formal, and it was more difficult for members of the Council to speak up,” Jenny recalls. “Numbers were low, and we felt that we weren’t reaching as many parents as we had hoped.” Recognising that the Parent Council had hit something of a stumbling block, the Head suggested Jenny attended a Parentkind training course aimed at parental engagement. One of the main messages that Jenny took from it was the important of communication. “Soon afterwards, we increased communication to staff and parents, and word soon began to spread about how the council could support them.
“Our meetings are more relaxed and less formal, to encourage whole-group participation. We now have two signage boards in school, which give us a greater presence. They’re a really useful way of removing the ‘mystery,’ and explaining who we are and what we do.”
“The course was absolutely what I needed,” Jenny says. “Since the training, I have felt empowered to develop our Council. In under a year, we have gone from having no Parent Council, to having a dedicated group that supports the school across 14 classes.”
“Sometimes parents don’t feel comfortable taking concerns to teachers, either because they lack the confidence, or feel that their concern isn’t significant enough. We’re a way to bridge the gap and provide that vital link between parents and school.”
Since it was established, the Parent Council has been really successful in giving parents a voice. Off the back of the Parent Council, there’s talk of starting a new ‘Friends of St Nicholas/PTFA,’ and of joining the Parent Governors.
“St Nicholas has had a difficult journey, but the school is turning that around,” Jenny concludes. “Our Parent Council has proven that positive relationships help everyone, and that wellbeing within the school is inevitably increased.”
With thanks to Jenny Ross of the St Nicholas CEP Parent Council.