Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations


  1.1  The NCPTA is a registered charity that advances education by promoting partnerships between home and school through support for Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs). The organisation represents approximately 7 million parents and teachers, with more than 13,000 individual PTAs currently in membership across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.[1]

  1.2  The NCPTA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2006, having grown out of informal networks of PTAs in the mid 1950s.

  1.3  Services offered to members by the NCPTA include a national advice line for members, local support through a team of six regional advisers, information and guidance on a range of relevant issues (including Gift Aid, child protection and criminal record checks, health and safety, event licensing and the use of inflatables at events), special rates with the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Bank (negotiated by the NCPTA on behalf of members), a model constitution developed in partnership with the Charity Commission providing a fast track to charity registration and a web builder product providing members with an off-the-shelf tailored package making it easy for PTAs to have a web presence that can be accessed by all parents at the school.

  1.4  The NCPTA continues to develop its role in representing the views of parents both in the media and the education policy arena. This is a role increasingly demanded by members[2] and by the media and education policy sectors: the NCPTA is one of very few organisations that represents such a large group of parents and is not limited to a single issue area.

  1.5  Membership of the NCPTA provides PTAs and other home-school alliances with subscription linked insurance. This policy has been negotiated by the NCPTA on behalf of its members (and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council) over several years, is price competitive and specified based on typical PTA activities. This comprehensive package includes £10 million public liability, £10 million employer's liability, personal accident cover and a fidelity guarantee.


  2.1  Home-school alliances are typically called Parent Teacher Associations but also include Parents Associations and Friends Groups, allowing the involvement of a wider group of supporters including grandparents and other relatives.

  2.2  Currently the total number of PTAs in existence across England, Wales and Northern Ireland is not known. Neither the Department for Education and Skills nationally nor Local Authorities (Local Education Authorities) locally survey schools to obtain this information. Commentators state that most schools will have a PTA. The NCPTA currently has just over 13,000 associations in membership. There is knowledge of an additional 6,500 PTAs, making a total of 19,500 known PTAs or 71% of all primary schools, secondary schools and sixth forms within England, Wales and Northern Ireland having a PTA. The NCPTA is currently conducting a full survey of all remaining schools to find out if they have a PTA or if there is interest in establishing an association.

  2.3  Anecdotally, the NCPTA is aware that PTAs ebb and flow. The crucial factors are support from teachers and having a highly motivated group of parents. When the children of the latter leave a school and with them their parents, some PTAs falter and only really get going again when the next group of highly motivated parents join the school with their children. Complete coverage at any one time is therefore unrealistic but is achievable over a period of time.

  2.4  PTA involvement also decreases as children get older. Most activity is therefore focused at primary school level. The NCPTA is developing specific support for secondary school PTAs to try and address this disparity.

  2.5  Again anecdotally, the NCPTA is aware that the vast majority of PTAs focus their activities on fundraising for the school. Typically this works well. The school provides a "wish list" to the PTA, giving a guide to the amount of funds required although there is no requirement on the PTA to spend funds raised as suggested by the school.

  2.6  The total contribution made by the NCPTA's 13,000 members to the education budgets of England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the last academic year (2003-04) was approximately £73 million.[3] Typically a PTA raises about £5,600 per annum irrespective of the size of the pupil roll and therefore the parent body. 15% of the NCPTA's members have reported raising in excess of £10,000 per annum; again this is not correlated to the number of pupils nor the size of the parent body.

  2.7  Some PTAs do support other forms of activity other than fundraising. The NCPTA has captured best practice information of PTAs which run after-school clubs or help deliver family learning opportunities in school to provide parents with information of the National Curriculum and how to better support their children's learning. The extent of additional forms of PTA activity is yet to be surveyed but anecdotally is believed to be limited.


  3.1  The NCPTA's vision is one of effective partnership between parents and teachers. It believes that this provides a substantial opportunity to advance education. Broadly speaking the activities of the home-school partnership are grouped under the term "parental involvement". (Although as is acknowledged by Professor Charles Desforges,[4] parental involvement goes further than just participation in school events and/or the work of the school and includes good parenting in the home, intellectual stimulation, parent-child discussion, good models of constructive social and educational values and high aspirations relating to personal fulfilment and good citizenship.)

  3.2  The peer review conducted by Desforges, concluded ". . . that parental involvement has a significant effect on children's achievement . . . Differences in parental involvement have a much bigger impact on achievement than differences associated with the effects of school in the primary age range. Parental involvement continues to have a significant effect through the age range although the impact for older children becomes more evident in staying on rates and education aspirations than as measured achievement".[5] Desforges acknowledges that is the "at-home" relationship and modelling of aspirations which play the major part in impact on school outcomes.[6] This does not mean that the home-school partnership has no role to play. Rather its effect is secondary. However, it should be acknowledged that the home-school relationship can have a positive influence on what is achieved at home, for example by directing support for homework.

  3.3.  Desforges highlights that research into spontaneous parental involvement best illustrates the positive impact on children's educational progress. This is not to say that attempts to intervene to enhance parental involvement are not successful, but that research into specific programmes has generically failed to describe the scale of the impacts on pupils' achievement and adjustment on the basis of the evidence available.[7] This is most troubling when research has also revealed large differences between parents in their level of involvement[8] and that involvement is strongly influenced by the child's attainment: the greater the attainment, the greater the degree of involvement.[9] Failure to address this disparity by successfully intervening to enhance parental involvement would seem to imply that differences in levels of attainment will only continue if not get worse.

  3.4.  Desforges highlights that spontaneous parental involvement includes:

    —  contacting the child's teacher to learn about the school's rules and procedures, the curriculum, homework assessment and the like;

    —  visits to school to discuss issues and concerns as these arise;

    —  participation in school events such as fetes;

    —  working in the school in support of teachers (for example in preparing lesson materials, supervising sports activities) and otherwise promoting the school community; and

    —  taking part in school management and governance.

  3.5.  It is clear that whilst PTA activity is part of the model of parental involvement, this goes significantly further than fundraising initiated and supported by parents for the benefit of the school.


  4.1.  Based on the US experience[10] of intervention to enhance parental involvement, several principles are commended as a guide to action:

    —  collaboration should be pro-active rather than reactive;

    —  the engagement of all parents should be worked for;

    —  collaboration involves sensitivity to the wide ranging circumstances of all families; and

    —  Collaboration recognises and values the contributions parents have to make to the educational process

Planning for intervention should build on:

    —  A comprehensive needs analysis;

    —  The establishment of mutual priorities;

    —  Whole school evaluation of resources and necessary organisational adjustments; and

    —  A public awareness process to help parents and teachers understand and commit to the strategic plan.

  The fundamental management issues remain simple. They are:

    —  Promoting parental involvement is a whole school/community issues;

    —  It must be worked for in a multi-dimensional programme; and

    —  It will bring an achievement bonus only if the intervention is followed through in the school's development plan for enhanced achievement goals.

  4.2.  The NCPTA has developed it own fund to support the development of parental involvement best practice. Initially awarded in 2004, the first tranche of five projects are now complete and the results are being analysed. The NCPTA will launch a further programme of awards and rewards in early 2006 to both recognise existing best practice in parental involvement, collate and disseminate this more widely and provide funding for a further five projects.

  4.3.  Local Authorities (Local Education Authorities) are increasingly developing their own programmes to support parental involvement. Examples include, Newcastle City Council which published its own guide to developing school parent partnerships for primary schools in April 2005.[11] This details the results of research carried out by LEA officers in conjunction with schools in Newcastle LEA and provides best practice information for use by other schools in the area. Hampshire County Council currently has its proposed strategy for supporting parents out for consultation.[12] This details priority action areas to increase parental involvement.

  4.4.  The Scottish Executive has also recently published the results of its research into parents' views on improving parental involvement in children's education.[13] Whilst this research is conducted outside of the geographical remit of the NCPTA it is noted because parental views are likely to be typical of those held with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also this is the most recent significant piece of research conducted with parents on the subject of their involvement in their children's education. This puts forward a number of recommendations to increase parental involvement including:

    —  information and support is required to overcome some existing mindsets, to convince parents of the significance of their role;

    —  any promotional campaign should note that parents are more likely to participate if they perceive a direct positive impact on their own child;

    —  there is scope for improving channels of communication: many that are used with success at pre-school and primary could be developed at later states for the education system;

    —  attention should be paid to the style and tone of language in all types of communication to parents to capture their attention in a positive and motivating way;

    —  there is a need for a more flexible approach to communication by using different mediums. Communication works best when it meets local expectations. Communication formats could usefully be tailored to meet local circumstances; and

    —  parents would benefit from advice and support that shows them different ways of getting involved.


  5.1.  The current legal framework places parents at the heart of school leadership, working with teaching staff to drive-up standards as parent governors (and many foundation/aided schools also have parents in non-parent governor roles). As has already been demonstrated the majority of schools within England, Wales and Northern Ireland also have some form of home-school alliance or Parent Teacher Association, (although there remains no legal framework supporting the development of such home-school partnerships).

  5.2.  However, it is clear that the Government's latest education White Paper seeks to create a school system shaped by parents. The aspiration is for all schools to have the freedom to shape their own destiny in the interest of parents and children, for good schools to be able to expand or take over other schools to spread their influence and benefit more parents and for parents to have an easy route to be able to generate change.[14] Parents will be:

    —  given the right to form Parent Councils to influence school decisions on issues such as school meals, uniform and discipline (such Councils will be required in Trust schools);

    —  able to demand new schools and new provision, backed by a dedicated system of capital funding; and

    —  given better local complaints procedures and access to a new national complaints service from Ofsted where local procedures have been exhausted (including establishing a new right for parents to complain to Ofsted where they have concerns which the school is failing to address).

  5.3.  The NCPTA is concerned about the balance of what is being proposed in the White Paper and feels it goes too far towards an ethos of parental power as opposed to a vision of parents and teachers working in effective partnership to achieve an increase in attainment. The term "parental power" has been used extensively by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and is implied within the text of the White Paper ("We must . . . put parents at the centre of our thinking giving them greater choice and active engagement in their child's learning and how schools are run[15] . . . . This will be a system driven by parents doing their best for their children"[16]). Parent power and parental involvement are not synonymous. It has not been proven that any increase in the authority of parents over the education system will result in an increase in the effectiveness of the partnership between parents and teachers and hence an increase in attainment. Nor is there any proven link between parental authority over the education system and the expansion of parental involvement (specifically a wider range of parents becoming directly involved in their children's education).

  5.4.  There are a range of provisions within the White Paper which are evidently aimed at increasing the numbers of parents directly involved in their children's education and the extent of this involvement. These include welcoming parents who may find it difficult to be involved, the right for parents to have regular and high quality information about what their child is learning, the provision of a single point of contact for parents within school, the use of ICT to provide parents with quick and easy access to information and the provision of materials for parents to use at home to support their child's learning and study skills. Whilst these are all welcomed, the NCPTA questions the degree to which they will be effective without formal compulsion on schools and/or specific funding for each proposal. The NCPTA therefore doubts that this will deliver the hoped for increase in parental involvement.

  5.5.  These concerns aside, the NCPTA also doubts that even if fully funded and implemented, these suggestions would deliver the multi-dimensional approach that research into parental involvement has highlighted is required.[17] A comprehensive initiative to enhance parental involvement would have to expect to provide services to ameliorate the following problems facing some parents:

    —  the effects of extreme poverty;

    —  the effects of substance abuse and of domestic violence;

    —  the effects of psychosocial illness, notably depression;

    —  the impact of a difficult child;

    —  the effect of barriers set up by schools;

    —  the inappropriate values and beliefs underlying a fatalistic view of education; and

    —  parental lack of confidence in or knowledge about how to be appropriately involved.

  5.6.  The failure to address the needs of those parents currently outside of the education system is probably best demonstrated by recommendations for school discipline. Whilst the NCPTA is sensitive to the sometimes overwhelming effect the bad behaviour of a limited number of pupils can have on the education of a whole class or cohort, we feel plans to extend the use of parenting orders and fines may exacerbate underlying issues. Whilst it is acknowledged parenting orders can be positive in some situations, their use along with fines may actually further alienate some parents from their children's education and therefore be wholly counterproductive. Again, what is needed is a multi-dimensional approach which responds to and addresses some of the issues preventing parental involvement. Indeed, a multi-dimensional approach that increases parental involvement may pre-empt some inappropriate behaviour and hence the need for parenting orders and fines.

  5.7.  The educational system that may be delivered by the White Paper is of great concern. The vision is of a system driven by parents doing their best for their children. However, research has already shown that parental involvement is strongly influenced by the child's attainment: the greater the attainment, the greater the degree of involvement.[18] Therefore, will this simply give greater authority over the education system to parents of those children already doing well and so further isolate those alienated from the education system and not active in support of their children's education? This is seen as increasingly likely when the high level of skills and confidence parents will require to take an active part in a Parents' Council, or to be able to demand a new school or new provision are considered.

  5.8.  The view that the main provisions of the White Paper will only reinforce existing barriers to participation is supported by the research recently conducted by the Scottish Executive.[19] This found that there is clear scope for steps to be taken to overcome the barriers to parental involvement. Parents would benefit from advice and support that shows them different ways of getting involved. Some families would appreciate help to overcome personal obstacles and enable them to attend events, such as child care or transportation and the availability of teachers outside standard school times. Parents with limited time wish for more opportunities for small or infrequent forms of support for the school itself. There is also a need for reforms to parental representation, both by working to overcome the current images of PTAs and School Boards, broadening Board membership and offering alternative options for parents to voice their opinions. Therefore, rather than focusing on allowing those parents already actively involved in their child's education to have a greater influence on the education system, what is required is an innovative range of ways to engage parents that currently have little or no involvement.

  5.9.  The NCPTA welcomes the specific suggestion of Parents' Councils, but only where these are about better facilitating the working relationship between parents and teachers for the benefit of attainment. It is also noted that governing bodies are only encouraged as opposed to required to establish Parents' Councils. Whist Trust schools are required to set-up a Parents' Council, this is only where the Trust appoints the majority of the governors, undermining the role of parents as governors and therefore as part of the school leadership team. Care would also need to be taken in establishing and developing Parents' Councils to ensure that they actively seek to engage as wide a range of parents and parental views as is possible.

  5.10.  The NCPTA notes plans to launch a national campaign, led by the Specialists Schools and Academies Trust and including other key partners such as the Secondary Heads Association and parents' organisations to develop further and share schools' experience of the benefits of parental engagement. Whilst the NCPTA welcomes this initiative, it is concerned that no contact has been made with the NCPTA to secure its support either before or after the campaign was announced. This dismays the NCPTA, given it represents a large group of parents and is publicly recognised as being unique in so doing. This is especially the case when the contribution of PTAs is itself welcomed in the White Paper. The NCPTA would also be concerned if the campaign were likely to focus on demonstrating the benefits of parental involvement which are already well substantiated[20] as opposed to delivering the multi-dimensional approach recommended by Desforges.[21]

  5.11.  The NCPTA would like to highlight the following as key to achieving an increase in parental involvement:

    —  a clear understanding of what is meant by parental involvement and how this differs from parental power. The peer review conduct by Desforges is strongly recommended for further reference;[22]

    —  the research already conducted into parental involvement (as reviewed by Desforges) and its key findings should be acknowledged and form the basis for the future development of parental involvement initiatives;

    —  a comprehensive approach to enhancing parental involvement is required to address the multidimensional barriers preventing some parents from becoming involved in their children's education. This would directly respond to research conducted with parents,[23] and should be supported by a formal requirement on schools and specified funding. To further embed parental involvement into the ethos of the education system, this should be included within teacher training and continuing professional development;

    —  further research should focus on the effective delivery of interventions to enhance parental involvement; and

    —  innovation should be supported and encouraged to develop parental involvement schemes that are successful in engaging the most alienated of parents.

December 2005

1   The NCPTA has a sister organisation in Scotland called the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. Back

2   A survey of NCPTA members conducted in May 2005 called on the organisation to represent the views of parents and teachers on a wide range of educational subjects (66% of those surveyed). Back

3   Based on the NCPTA's annual survey of members conducted in May 2005, representing a £5 million increase in the amount reported as raised by members in 2002-03 or growth in excess of 7% and therefore well above the rate of inflation. Back

4   The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Report (DfES Research Report 433), 2003: Executive Summary. Back

5   Page 80, para 9.2.2. Back

6   Page 80, para 9.2.3. Back

7   The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Report (DfES Research Report 433), 2003: Page 80, para 9.3.3. Back

8   Page 80, para 9.2.4. Back

9   Page 79, para 9.2.1. Back

10   Page 83, para 9.7.2-9.8. Back

11   Developing School/Parent Partnerships: Guidance and Information for Primary Schools (Chris Constable with Jay Atwal). Back

12   Successful Outcomes for children through support for parents: The Hampshire Strategy for Supporting Parents.  Back

13   Parents' views on improving parental involvement in children's education, Scottish Executive, Edinburgh 2005. Back

14   Higher Standards, Better Schools for All: More Choice for Parents and Pupil: Department for Education and Skills, October 2005 para 2.2. Back

15   Forward by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Back

16   para 1.36. Back

17   The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Report (DfES Research Report 433), 2003: page 82, para 9.5. Back

18   Page 79, para 9.2.1. Back

19   Parents' views on improving parental involvement in children's education, Scottish Executive, Edinburgh 2005. Back

20   The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Report (DfES Research Report 433), 2003: Page 80, para 9.2.2. Back

21   page 84, para 9.9-9.10.1. Back

22   The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Report (DfES Research Report 433), 2003. Back

23   Parents' views on improving parental involvement in children's education, Scottish Executive, Edinburgh 2005. Back

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