Listening to our members

For the last two years, we have asked P&C office- bearers how they found their year on the P&C. Around three-quarters of ACT P&Cs responded. The results are helping Council to better support P&Cs and the great work they do in our public schools. If you are looking to better understand what motivates volunteers, you may be interested in the results as well.

The greatest challenge? Too few helpersphoneadvice

It’s no surprise to anyone, but here it is – a third of P&Cs cited too few volunteers as their greatest difficulty, the most common difficulty by a long way. An even greater number answered ‘what would make the job easier?’ with ‘more volunteers’. Yes, more volunteers are needed, but what can be done to help?

Council is also looking into the possibility of linking with a number of other organisations which might be able to help, and we are considering a possible research project in this area. We have raised the issue with both senior executive staff at the Education Directorate and the ACT Minister for Education.

We have explored several other avenues for finding volunteers – for example advertising in a seniors’ newsletter – and making it easier for volunteers, by seeking Centrelink recognition of volunteer work canteens for example. A couple of P&Cs have trialled these avenues and we will let everyone know as soon as we have some clear evidence about what is helpful.

We also have a number of resources to help P&Cs attract volunteers, available on our website:

  • a letter, approved by the Education Directorate, to include in school enrolment packs which introduces your P&C to new parents (and asks for their email addresses)
  • brochure template (ready for you to customise for your school) advertising the wonders of your P&C and the advantages of being involved
  • information sheets with tips on growing your P&C and recruiting help
  • information sheets on good communications and running your meetings well – both essential if you want to attract more parents.

It also helps to involve your community as widely as possible in setting P&C goals, to break down P&C tasks and to do so early. (See the cover story of the last issue of ParentACTion for all the details!) Recruiting volunteers is also an important topic in our Effective P&C workshop, so come along to the next one on June 8.

Perhaps this survey respondent has the answer:

“I think the ACT Government should fund some 'heroes of the P&C’-type adverts”

In terms of attracting more volunteers, the survey may also hold some answers…

What’s the best thing about being on the P&C? (aka how to ‘sell’ your P&C to new volunteers)

Our survey told us what volunteers value most about being on the P&C:

  • being informed about what happens at school
  • the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile
  • just being involved with their child’s school
  • personally connecting to community/parents
  • personally connecting to staff (especially the principal).

So make sure you let parents know that P&C meetings include a principal’s report containing interesting information about what is happening at the school. Allow time on the agenda for discussion about this and questions for the principal. This might mean cutting down on other items on your agenda, but when you know what parents value, make sure it has centre stage. Remember that you can streamline other parts of your meetings by, for example, circulating treasurer, president and other reports with the agenda, rather than getting bogged down with them in the meeting itself.

Also, make sure as many people as possible feel part of the team that achieved all the worthwhile things your P&C does. Thank everyone for their involvement, even if it was small, and feed back to all volunteers and the school community in general. Say specifically what their involvement has made possible. For example, the things the P&C does for the school, students or community, or the items it was able to purchase and how the teachers and students are using them.

Workload too great, skills hard to find

Other common problems expressed in the survey was the incredibly high workload of many volunteers and the difficulty in finding people with the right skills. The areas where the skills shortage is most keenly felt are in financial management and running canteens.

We are hoping some new resources will help. A brand new and comprehensive Canteen Business Manual, put together by ACT Health and Healthy Kids Association with input from many stakeholders, is just about finished and will be a fabulous resource and guide for canteen co-ordinators, managers and P&C presidents alike. We’ll let you know when it is available!

We also have a new handbook for treasurers which should make the job accessible to anyone. And we are investigating affordable models of outsourcing the P&C’s book keeping.

Council’s services & resources are useful

servicesWe were glad to find out that P&Cs regard our services highly. While nearly half of respondents had never called or emailed the office, almost all of those who did rated our responses ‘very useful’ (53%) or ‘useful’ (42%).

Our online resources were the most used and were rated as ‘very useful’ (34%) or ‘useful’ (49%) by most, while 16% rated them as ‘somewhat useful’.

So, if you have a query, check out our online resources or contact us by phone or email. Our office is open 9:30am-2:30pm on schools days to help you.

Our social media feed was also highly rated amongst those connected, with 76% finding it useful or very useful. So if you use Twitter or Facebook, please join us!

We’ve also heard you on where we can improve. Two years ago treasurers found our resources less useful than presidents and secretaries. So we have completely reworked our resources for treasurers – our brand new Treasurer Handbook and updated spreadsheet templates are now available on our website. We also ran additional training on the end-of-year audit for the first time in 2016 and have incorporated more reminders and key dates for treasurers in our other communications.

Is your volunteered time valued?

Most volunteers felt well valued by the executive staff at their school (60% felt ‘highly valued’ and another 24% felt ‘moderately valued’), which is terrific! When it came to the school’s teachers, 30% of P&C volunteers felt ‘highly valued’ while 40% felt ‘moderately valued’. Students were seen to value the P&C less.

Sadly, volunteers felt even less valued by other parents, with 35% feeling ‘moderately valued’ and 38% ‘slightly valued’, while 20% felt ‘not valued’ by other parents. Most respondents felt least valued by the Directorate with ‘not valued’ (34%) being the most common answer.

We have talked to the Directorate about this and are coming up more formal ways that P&Cs can be recognised by the school and Directorate. ●

To access the resources mentioned in this article, see P&C Resources.

This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 2, 2017.