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Active collaboration between school, pupils and parents has always been essential to the successful development of a child. It might be reasonably argued that it is more critical today than it ever has been with youngsters facing issues that many parents feel ill-equipped to deal with such as social media misuse, exam stress and mental health and well-being. 

Helen Critchlow, Parent Governor of the Boys’ Division Parents’ Association (BDPA) at Bolton School describes how the Parents’ Associations at Bolton School have adapted: “We have recognised that we need to move with the times and to think creatively to ensure there is meaningful engagement from parents which, in turn, helps them raise their child. Gone are the days of a PA just being about raising funds for the School to spend; we now need to help parents navigate through the teenage years. Our recent introduction of a series of talks focusing on the “Teenage Journey” has done just this and has proved very popular. Parents can learn from a mixture of professionals and practitioners in areas such as substance abuse, homework and revision best practice, social media, diet and exercise, life balance and emotional health; at the same event, just by talking to each other, they can learn from other parents who are facing or have faced the same concerns.” 

The Girls’ Division PA (GDPA) at Bolton School also holds instructional events; as well as helping to fund enrichment lectures it is launching a new evening lecture series entitled “An Audience With”, the first event featuring fitness guru Ken Heathcote, who will be interviewed by local journalist Angela Kelly.  GDPA Chair, Nissa Smyth, also believes in finding new ways of engaging parents with School: “Just last year we introduced a new Parents’ Association Future Entrepreneurs’ (PAFE) event – a kind of Dragons’ Den competition for all of the Year 9 girls. The teams were challenged to create a new business idea based on a set brief and were judged by an external panel of entrepreneurs made up of parents, relatives and supportive local companies operating in a variety of business disciplines. The winners received a gift voucher, a Young Enterprise Golden Ticket and a new PAFE trophy. The event demonstrated to girls different careers paths and encouraged interaction, focusing on the world of work between parents and daughters. We also involved Year 6 girls in our focus groups and this gave them an early insight into life in the Senior School.” The Boys’ Division similarly utilises parents who come in to help with developing pupils’ interview skills. 

Both PAs have a strong presence on the School’s annual Open Morning in October, where they play a central role in talking to enquiring parents, allaying their fears and smoothing the transition to Senior School. All parents are automatically enrolled into both Senior Schools PAs when their child begins in Year 7 and are encouraged to get involved and stay up to date through activities posted on web pages and social media – both PAs now have their own logos! The two associations often work together and there is also collaboration with the School’s Junior and Infant Schools’ PAs. 

Fundraising remains an integral part of what both PAs do. Both associations meet regularly, half-termly for the Boys’ Division and at least termly for the Girls’ Division, with various sub-committees planning different activities throughout the year. Funds are raised by the PAs through annual key events such as the Girls’ Division Fireworks Display and Burns’ Night as well as through ad hoc events such as coffee mornings and gin-tasting. In addition, there are regular School Balls and Family Festivals and Fairs. Further money is raised through the girls’ pre-loved uniform sales and boys’ lost property and second-hand uniform store as well as through an Easyfundraising online venture. Both associations work hard to raise funds for school equipment, and activities include the sale of Bolton School branded Christmas puddings and wine, plant and bulb sales, alongside light refreshments at School shows. Parents welcome these events, either as an opportunity to help out and ‘do their bit’ in otherwise busy lives, or to meet and socialise with other parents and staff and share experiences of school life. 

The Girls’ Division has recently benefited from a new Y11 Common Room, classroom signage, sports kit, wooden benches, Great Hall blinds and money is currently being saved to help fund the refurbishment of the girls’ theatre. Boys have benefited across the curriculum, including equipment for their recording studio, a new learning support area, cricket equipment, water-polo floating goals, kayaks, tents, drama studio lighting, drums and roller-skates! 

Headmistress of Bolton School Girls’ Division, Sue Hincks: “Parental engagement is vital in ensuring pupil development and success and we are delighted that our Parents’ Association is so actively engaged with School. It can sometimes be the case that, as their children get older and parents no longer stand at the school gate at the end of the school day, they engage less with other parents; a strong PA helps counteract this. I am very grateful for all the support which our Parents’ Association lends us.” 

Philip Britton, Headmaster of the Boys’ Division, agrees: “Our PA plays a vital role in the development of the boys and has done for many years – we look forward to celebrating their 75th birthday party in 2020. I am also indebted to parents who give up their time to come into the School to inspire our pupils by talking about their careers and life experiences.”

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