Parents Aiding Learning and Support (PALS) provides friendship and advice at Millennium Integrated Primary School

Key summary

In 2002, PALS was established at Millennium Integrated Primary School, in the tiny hamlet of Lisdoonan, to offer assistance to parents of any child within the school who may require additional support. PALS is run entirely by parents on a voluntary basis. Here, Joanne McGrath tells us more...

Joanne explains "the group today in 2020 is continuing to go from strength to strength; running weekly events for parents and families to come together and lean on each other, as required, to enable them access support and share ideas".

The weekly sessions – Friday Coffee Club and Afternoon Club provide unique support for parents and the whole family. Joanne goes on to say "workshops are run during the Coffee Club for parents and during these the parents get to make resources which they can use at home. The Afternoon Club provides invaluable opportunities for the parents and siblings of a child with additional needs to come together in a fun and inclusive environment and enjoy art, play and learning life skills such as using money at the tuckshop or making their own snacks".

On top of this, the group fundraises to supply the school with specialist resources and equipment such as ear defenders, weighted beanbags and fidget toys for each class; handwriting tools and aids; games and resources for friendship groups and nurture groups within the school and a squeeze machine for the relaxation room. Also, the group has funded teachers and classroom assistants to undertake specialist training, e.g. Lego therapy, Nurture training and more.

In recent times, due to Covid-19, the normal activity of PALS has had to stop, but this hasn’t stopped the group Chairperson investigating other ways to continue supporting families remotely. The Chairperson keeps in touch with parents via telephone calls and through their private Facebook group.

The Chairperson also:

  • shares many resources for families to use at home, e.g. daily/weekly planners, free resources for mental health and well-being and support for the return to school
  • puts together topic folders for the resource library e.g. ASD in girls, social stories, anger management and visuals
  • during the school closure organised a chill-out room for children who found the playground too overwhelming
  • purchased a sensory station for our younger children in Key Stage 1

Joanne is proud to say "the group is made up of a very small committee and works very closely with the school’s Learning Support Coordinator with the full backing and support of the school, but the strength of the group and benefits it provides oozes from the parents themselves".

The group firmly believe in the words of Professor Tony Attwood -

“Parents can seek professional help, but they also need help from fellow parents for empathy. They’ve actually been through it. Sometimes the best psychotherapy is not from a psychologist, it’s from a group of parents who laugh together, tell stories together and support each other. It can be incredibly helpful to parents to feel you’re not alone, that there are times when you are in despair, that there is someone there who understands and won’t judge you, and that’s another parent.”

Parents who attend PALS, regularly cite the group as the most valued source of support. The group in the words of one parent provides coffee, friendship and advice. She added, “it is a place where you can ask anything and someone will have the answer”.

PALS cannot wait for the group to be able to come together again physically, but in the meanwhile, they continue to avail of ongoing support, knowing that the Chairperson and the other parents, are only a click of the keyboard away.


Fact File
  • PTA name: Parents Aiding Learning and Support (PALS)
  • School name: Millennium Integrated Primary School
  • Age range: 4-11
  • Country: Northern Ireland
  • School type: Primary

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