P&Cs: too few helpers, but still worth it

Struggling with too few volunteers but appreciating knowing more about what happens at school: these were the biggest ups and downs for our P&Cs last year, according to our member survey.

Late last year Council surveyed P&C members to find out more about the challenges and rewards of volunteering on the P&C in the ACT. It was your chance to tell us about your year on the P&C. Our thanks to those who responded.

Our findings were hardly surprising, but they do give some insight into what is needed to help P&Cs and the rewards which might encourage new members.

The biggest and most obvious need is for more volunteers, with many listing a shortage of volunteers as their greatest challenge. Most P&Cs (70%) found it difficult to fill all the positions on their committees and needed additional meetings and coercion to fill positions, or else limped through the year without key positions filled. This gets worse in colleges where more than half failed to fill their committee positions. And most volunteers are not new recruits — only around 20% of P&C office bearers were first-timers.

To help, Council is looking at a range of strategies to encourage new recruits. We are in discussions with the Education Directorate about system-wide strategies to encourage P&C volunteers and are pursuing a number of other ideas, from providing recognised training to advertising campaigns.

It is worth remembering, too, that Council has a number of resources on our website to help P&Cs promote themselves to their school communities, including Directorate-approved letters for parent enrolment packs and a P&C brochure template (take a look at www.actparents.org.au). If you have any other ideas for resources which Council could create that would benefit your P&C, please let us know.

On the plus side, our survey found that, despite the lack of helpers, most P&C members felt that their volunteered time was valued and that being involved on the P&C was worthwhile. They felt most valued by school executive staff (90% feeling either ‘highly’ or ‘moderately’ valued), followed by the school’s teachers. Sadly, though, volunteers felt much less valued by other parents (55% saying they felt only ‘slightly valued’ or ‘not valued’) and the ‘school system’.

The survey also discovered that for most people, the best thing about being involved in the P&C was being informed about what happens at school and connecting to staff (especially the principal) and the community. The satisfaction of doing something to help their child’s school was also cited as a great thing about being on the P&C. These are not surprising, but how often do we really push these benefits when trying to recruit to the P&C? Do all parents at your school know that your P&C meetings include information about the school (eg the principal’s report) and the chance to connect with the principal? This is something well worth stressing in conversations and newsletter items.

We were also pleased to discover that our members found the services Council offers useful. Most people who used our online resources rated them useful (have you checked out our website recently?). Most of our responses to direct telephone/email enquiries were rated ‘very useful’ (feel free to email or call us with your P&C issues) and those who attended meetings found them very useful (everyone is welcome and the next one is March 22!).

We also identified a few areas we’d like to improve our services, such as providing more useful information for treasurers in particular, and making this magazine even more useful for our P&C members! We are pursuing a range of ideas to help treasurers, but would also value your comments and suggestions. And if you have any ideas on what you’d like to see in ParentACtion, please let us know – it is your magazine!

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This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 1, 2016. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine.