Raising parent voices

Council strives to be the parent voice on public education – and in 2020 we had a lot to say – but how does it work and what do we achieve?

P&Cs are often the focus point for a lot of parent comment about our schools and our children’s education. P&C Council seeks to link this together, and serve as an avenue for discussing and collating feedback to pass on to government. Our network of Council delegates is central to this, and in 2020 achieved a lot.

Gathering voices

At the beginning of the year, each P&C elects a Council delegate. It is the delegate’s job to gather issues, concerns and points of view from their P&C and then voice these at Council meetings. Because of the wealth of experience present at meetings, these concerns can often be answered on the spot. However, if delegates from other schools share the concern, Council can choose where to best voice that concern. We have a range of excellent opportunities at our disposal.

Having a say

We’re able to express parent concerns directly to government at a high level. We have regular contact with senior staff at the Education Directorate (EDU). Each term we have formal meetings with the Director General of Education and the ACT Minister for Education.

We are also asked for our input on emerging education policies and practices, or to make submissions to official inquiries, and we are able to seek input into our response from delegates and P&C office-bearers. During the year, you’ll see opportunities to comment on a range of issues via our meetings, emails and newsletters.

Our members are also involved in decision-making groups and government committees where they represent parents. Examples include a Disability Education Reference Group (providing parent input on disability issues), School Transport Liaison Committee (looking at transport and traffic issues, especially buses with Transport Canberra), the Collaborative working group on food at school, and the Board of Senior Secondary Studies.

In 2020 we were vocal

Much of Council’s focus last year – for both our volunteer executive and our office staff – was gathering parent feedback and talking to government about changes  due to COVID-19 and the impact on families, schools and P&Cs. Parents expressed concerns and had questions on many aspects of the pupil-free school period, online learning and hub schools. Later, we worked hard to make some election day fundraising possible for P&Cs, and then to ensure maximum parent participation in end of year graduation events.

Council was able to feed back the range of parent views in a timely manner, with a direct impact on decision making. We also provided honest feedback on communications about schooling to parents, which resulted in much improved information for families.

We held two special General Meeting sessions to gather feedback on issues with the pupil-free period. These wide-ranging issues were directly communicated to the ACT Education Minister and the senior team at EDU.

COVID-19 wasn’t the only topic of conversation. We voiced the parent perspective on a huge range of issues in 2020, including:

  • air quality in schools resulting from bushfire smoke
  • school buses, traffic and parking, in particular parking and management plans for school events such as fetes
  • OOSH service providers service and licence deeds
  • school capacity pressures and the loss of libraries and other specialist spaces
  • school/home communication
  • access to school ground on weekends
  • the need to overhaul EDU’s complaint handling process
  • hazardous materials found in public schools
  • school email security issues
  • the Special Needs Transport Service
  • School Youth Health Nurse program
  • School Boards

ACT election

2020 was also an election year. Drawing on issues, concerns and ideas brought to Council by members of the past few years and discussed at Council Meetings, we collated an election ‘wish list’ for ACT public schools. We sent this to all election candidates and met with many individual candidates to discuss our priorities and to help them understand what parents want for our schools. We also talked to the media about our wish list.

The result was excellent – a deep focus on schools in the election campaign period and some promises which aligned closely to our priorities, including:

  • more teacher-librarians
  • substantial commitment to school infrastructure
  • promises to remove hazardous materials and move to expert-led management
  • more youth and social workers
  • a whole-school approach to respectful relationships education.

We’re looking forward to working with the new ACT Government to realise these election promises and ensure that they meet parent expectations.

More for 2021

We continue to have ongoing discussions and work with EDU on additional priorities and outstanding issues, including:

  • improving the way EDU and schools handle complaints — we want a family-centred reporting and complaints-handling process
  • input into financial literacy teaching in schools
  • the way School Board parent representatives are elected and interact with the P&C
  • the need for a clear framework for inclusive education
  • making reasonable adjustments for students with disability and/or complex needs
  • engaging parents meaningfully in schools and improving home-school communication.

Why not sign up as your P&C’s delegate to Council  and join the network?— it works!  

This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 1, 2021.