A dynamic, inclusive PTA means a boost in school funding and resources. Geraldine Archbold-Shore, PTA Chair at Harpenden Academy, a primary school in Hertfordshire, explains how pioneering platform Classlist can help.
When I first heard about Classlist my reaction was, ‘This is too good to be true – what’s the catch?!’ But there isn’t a catch. Classlist is free. It has secure data protection procedures. And it’s a complete godsend for us.
At Harpenden Academy our way of communicating with parents used to be messages in book bags; posters round the school; piggy-backing on the school’s newsletter; word-of-mouth; various different Facebook pages… it was patchy and time-consuming and you couldn’t guarantee that all parents were seeing the information. Classlist has transformed that. In the two months since we joined about 95% of the children have at least one parent signed up to the site. Suddenly we have this online space that can be accessed by the whole school community.
For the PTA that means we can send out announcements; ask for volunteers for events; run surveys asking all the parents to contribute ideas. We can sell tickets for events. We can see exactly who has bought tickets and how many people are coming to an event, which makes it easier to arrange catering or seating. As the payments are all done online through Paypal we don’t have to spend time counting cheques and cash and keeping the money locked up.
The feedback I’ve had from parents is that they love it. They can engage with the site and what we’re doing whenever they want. They’re not missing stuff or being overwhelmed by school communications. They know where we are. They know where to find us. They know they’re part of the community. The site’s easy to use, so that makes parents engage. And most use Classlist through a phone app, so they can look at it whenever works for them.
Working parents benefit too. The site gives them a place to connect with other parents and build bonds, even if they can’t do drop-off and pick-up. It has increased engagement throughout our school community.’
Classlist improves parent/school awareness
Jude Mills, PTA Secretary at Parkside Academy, a secondary school in Cambridge
‘I want to use Classlist to build a stronger parent community at Parkside. The history of the PTA here has been mixed. We face that age-old struggle of parents at secondary school: how do you grow parental engagement when the kids don’t want parents on school premises?!
At primary school you get to know other parents through drop-off and pick-up and it’s easier to get involved. Those mechanisms disappear at secondary. But there’s still huge advantages when a school does have a parent body to interact with. It’s not just the fundraising benefits – it’s the benefits of parents talking to one another; supporting one another; feeding that support back into the school. That can help tackle social problems; it can bring opportunities – because parents know more about what the school needs – and it can feed into a dynamic, positive school environment.
I think Classlist will help to build that community. It’s an inclusive site where people can see what is going on and can get to know one another. Even if people haven’t signed up, you can still add them to invites and to alerts about events, so you know they’re being welcomed by the community. Our PTA sends out a newsletter from Classlist every month and each time we do, we get a little flurry of parents signing up. At some point we will hit a critical mass where so many parents are on the site that everyone else will join, because all their friends will direct them there to find out about events or to chat.
Once that happens – once the community is fully in place – we can focus on Classlist as a forum for helping the PTA to fundraise. But we need to build the community first. People are much more likely to volunteer for things if their friends are volunteering too.’
Classlist improves school communication
Amell Amatino, PTA Chair at La Fontaine Academy in London
‘When I first came across Classlist I thought it looked good, but I approached it very cautiously. Some parents already had active networks on Facebook and WhatsApp, so I knew there would be resistance to the idea of introducing another website. But the PTA were keen to have just one platform for everything we do, a site that was safe, secure and open to our whole school community.
I decided to take a couple of months to do research and see if this really was the right site for us. It had to be easy to use and it had to improve PTA communication. Once I was sure, I got input from the PTA. They liked it, so we did a demo for the class reps and got their feedback. By now it was clear that a whole group of us wanted to use Classlist – we could see it would save us time and admin work and improve communication with the parents.
But we did meet parental resistance. Parents grumbled that it was another online platform to get their heads round and that they hadn’t heard of Classlist. We had to do a lot of talking, explaining the benefits. But, with a slowly, slowly approach, within one month we had 191 members (in a school with 220 children).
It’s already made life so much easier. Instead of a newsletter where the communication is just one way, we now have two-way conversations with parents – posting information up to the whole school and getting responses. It’s easier to collect money for events. I know that the more parents use the site, the more benefits we’ll see. I wouldn’t go back to our old systems. And I know the parents like it – because the complaining in the playground has stopped!’