Elaine Ford was the Chair of the Parents’ Association at Hendreds Primary School in Oxfordshire for two years. She handed the job over two years ago…
In the beginning… I joined the PA when my son started in Reception. At the time I was running my own business – marketing aloe vera-based products – so I had various beauty contacts. In my first year I was asked to book external stallholders for the Christmas Fair and the Summer Fete and that then became my main role on the committee.
Becoming Chair… I’d been on the PA for two years when our Chair resigned. Her family were leaving the area – they were moving to Devon – so, as of September, there would be no one to run the PA. Despite that, everyone was very reluctant to take the role on. Although the PA is a committee, the buck stops with the Chair, so there’s a significantly higher level of responsibility and that (understandably) puts people off. There were three reasons why I decided to take it on:
Someone had to!
I’d been on the committee for two years, so I understood how things worked.
A friend – another mum in the same class as my son – was the Secretary. I knew we got on and worked well together, so I felt we could support one another.
What I discovered… So much! As Chair it was incredibly rewarding to run successful events. We raised enough money to install a sensory garden at the school, to build a wooden bike shed and to fund various workshops. It was great to know how much I’d contributed to creating those things for my kids and for the other children. But there were harder lessons too. I discovered that it’s really helpful for a Chair to possess certain personal qualities – you need to be patient and persistent, but also able to let stuff go. You need to be a good organiser and calm under pressure. And a sense of humour helps, definitely! The role does get frustrating, because it’s hard to get people to commit to joining the committee, so a small number of people are always doing a lot of work.
Resigning as Chair… I did the job for two years and then I felt I needed to step back and let someone else take it on. I told the Secretary what I was thinking and she said she felt the same way, so at the start of the summer term we said that we wanted to hand over at the end of term. We said we would both be available to support the people who took on the roles…but no one came forward. That’s hard. As Chair, I didn’t want to see the PA fade away, so I felt a responsibility to keep going until a new Chair was in place. But at the same time, I resented being put in that position. I had worked really hard for the PA for two years and I wanted to stop.
The next move… In an ideal world, the PA Chair is someone who has been serving on the committee – because they know what’s involved, they understand the processes and procedures you need to go through and they’re open-eyed about what the role requires. Luckily, there were a couple of parents on the PA who had the qualities you need in a Chair. I encouraged them to think about it and said again that I would support them and be there to answer any questions. I think that’s important, because it is a big job and it’s helpful to know that you have people you can call on. By October one of them had agreed to take it on, but to help out I agreed to be heavily involved with running the Christmas Fair, which is the first of the year’s big events. It wasn’t what I would have chosen to do – but it allowed the handover to work smoothly and for the new Chair to get used to the role.
My tips for handing over…
Give the committee plenty of time to find a replacement. The earlier you can alert them to your end date, the better.
If it’s possible – think about who’ll take over long before you decide to resign. That way you can get people shadowing you and seeing what needs doing, so they’re confident about taking on the role.
Make sure the minutes are all there. The Secretary hands over the minutes, but they’re a crucial set of documents. They work as a template for events – you can see exactly what had to be done in previous years for an event to come off.
Hand over your contacts. Give the incoming Chair a list of contact details for all the people and businesses who have supported the PTA so they can be contacted again. I also gave her a stall plan for events.
Make introductions. Try to introduce the new Chair to all the parents who aren’t on the committee but who can be relied on to help out as volunteers at events. It was as simple as saying, ‘This is Rachelle and Dan. They are always brilliant at putting up gazebos and their son is in Year 5.’ That personal introduction makes it easier for the new Chair to ask for help from those parents when an event rolls round.
Share your insider info. You’ll be surprised at the useful things you know – things like the best time/ day for talking to the Head, or where to hire glasses for the bar, or how far in advance you need to get adverts sorted for a fete programme.
Be supportive. The truth is that however hard you work and whatever you do, there will be people who don’t agree with the decisions you make as the Chair. You need to tell the incoming Chair that that’s OK – and that they should trust their decisions.
Be clear about the benefits of being Chair. It’s a big role, but there are so many good reasons for taking it on. You’ll directly benefit the school and your children. You’ll build a strong and lasting friendship group. You’ll become an even better organiser. And you’ll discover you had skills you just didn’t know you had!