Award-winning school brings parents on board

Key summary

A concerted effort amongst the whole school community has paid off for Our Lady’s Girls' Primary School in Belfast, after Families First NI crowned them Best Primary School in March 2018 at a lavish ceremony at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Belfast.

Best Primary School award

Teacher and PTA member Diane Boyle said, “Originally our principal Miss O' Dowd had been nominated, though when Families First NI saw the comments online from parents and others in the community, they discovered it wasn’t just the principal but the whole school that should be put forward in the Best Primary School category. We won Best Primary School and Miss O' Dowd was highly commended for Best Principal, and we came away with trophies for each. They’re in pride of place in our newly decorated front hall. The parents are delighted.”

Everybody working together

The awards ceremony was reflective of the school’s ethos, reinforced by Principal O' Dowd, which is to value everybody’s contributions from staff to parents. Reflecting, Diane told us, “Having engaged parents helps you appreciate what you can achieve. It’s all the extras you put in that can make a difference.”

Building parent voice

An active PTA helps to keep parents in the loop and provides a conduit between home and school. Diane told us a bit more about their parent group. “The PTA enriches and adds value. We’re all in it for the same thing. It’s for the good of the girls and their education, development and social skills.” Diane tells us the principal is supportive of staff who get involved with the PTA, but it’s the parents who take ownership. “At meetings, we look at what money we’ve raised and get suggestions of what people want and what the pupils need. Anything niggling parents can be discussed too, and this may be something a parent not on the PTA has raised. So through the PTA, we’re bringing the voice of the parents back to the school. We can react to it and make sure we’re doing things right.”

PTA events

Our Lady’s Girls' Primary School has an active PTA, and its main events are never short of volunteers. From Halloween discos to a Stars in their Eyes contest, there are ways to keep parents involved throughout the year. As Diane explains, “The Summer Fair Sausage Sizzle is always our biggest event, and we end up with about sixty volunteers from staff and parents. They get a free burger! With that number, you’re only asking for an hour of their time. Parents love to volunteer. They might not want to come to meetings or be on the committee, but this is a great way for them to come and be involved, and the children love to see their mums and dads taking part.”

Building parental participation

As well as getting parents involved in PTA events, the school reaches out to all parents, and Diane explains why this is important to them. “We’re in a deprived area. Some of our parents didn’t have a good experience at school, so previously they may have refused to come in, because for them, school was just a negative experience.” They found that parents would come to school when their child was invited too. “We have science or maths evenings, where parents come with their child to the school and find out how we teach them. Once you’ve built up trust, the parents are happy to come back.”

Feedback to parents

It’s important to build on the good will that has been created with parents, and Our Lady’s Girls' Primary School do this in a number of ways. “We have an annual audit that we send out to parents online that invites their feedback on teaching and learning at school, as well as their views on the PTA. That way, we’re collecting parent voice and feeding it back to the PTA. Self-evaluation is always good. The impact from parents can’t be underestimated.” Parents are told of the successes too. “We publicise what we’ve bought with PTA funds on a noticeboard outside the school to keep parents informed, and the minutes of every AGM are posted to the website.”

Talking to Diane, it’s clear that building and maintaining a parent-friendly school ethos and a strong PTA at Our Lady’s Girls' Primary School has paid dividends, as seen with its recent incredible recognition with a Families First NI award.

"It’s about parents knowing the school is open to them. They come in with their child, and we’re all together, which is amazing. It builds a sense of everything working as one." Diane Boyle, teacher and PTA member, Our Lady's Girls' Primary School
  • Wins Best Primary School at Families First NI
  • Principal is highly commended
  • Builds parent voice in school
  • Active PTA with good levels of support
  • Parent-friendly ethos

Fact File
  • PTA name: Our Lady's Girls' Primary School PTA
  • School name: Our Lady's Girls' Primary School
  • Age range: 4-11
  • Country: Northern Ireland
  • School type: Primary
  • Size: 377

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