Last year was tough for parent associations, PTAs and PTOs. But as they say “That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Here are some ways to bounce forward in 2021.
Reflecting back on the past year, it is clear that running a PTA, council, friends or parent association has been hard work the last twelve months. Many schools simply mothballed activity. Recognising that school staff and parents just didn’t have the mental space to focus on community and socialising.
So all the fun, social aspects of school didn’t happen. No playdates with school mates. Worse still, no birthday parties. According to our data, an 85% drop in birthday parties.
Remember those school events where we all get to know each other better? Such as the summer and winter fairs, concerts, plays, coffee mornings, parents nights out? These dropped by 60% compared with pre-Covid times.
Interestingly, paid events only dropped by 35%. This is because some parent associations soldiered on and switched to virtual events. Such as quiz nights, wine and cheese evenings, virtual balloon and horse races and walking trails.
Another interesting trend: total ticket numbers declined by around 30%. But many of our Ambassadors commented on higher engagement than equivalent in-person events held in the past. Indeed, our data across all Classlist schools indicates that the average number of tickets sold per event actually increased by 10%.
Source: By number. Classlist 2021
PTAs and parent associations are often responsible for uniform sales and lost property. Last year, these went online. Saving considerable time of school staff. As parents traded amongst themselves. In fact listings posted on Classlist increased by 5% despite pupils not having to wear uniforms, trade up musical instruments or sports equipment, for most of last year.
These statistics however, fail to highlight the emotional hardship experienced by families during this time. By all accounts, it’s been those pupils in transition years who have been worst hit. For instance, starting primary school for the first time, moving from primary to secondary and leaving secondary school.
These important years can’t be recaptured for these cohorts. But there’s time to ensure new joiners this time round have a much better experience.
Focus on the four P’s
Although we are still living in uncertain times, by focusing on the four P’s – purpose, place, people and partnerships, school communities can bounce forward and thrive.
Tradition and school culture play a key role to help newcomers understand the purpose of your community. Without in-person contact however, these social cues are missed. Especially for parents new to the school in 2020 when schools were shut.
Your purpose taps into that thing that all successful school communities have in common:
- being part of something bigger
- working towards a common goal
- building skills and getting better.
Here is a link to an article on how to craft your updated purpose statement.
2. Place: Need to offer online and offline locations
With some schools experiencing higher levels of parent participation than before, its clear that events and social networking don’t need to be restricted to the school premises. Two trends we can expect to see in future:
- More frequent events with smaller groups. These will be around common interests. Book clubs, weekend pursuits, dog walking.
- Hybrid events. Concerts, plays, sporting events that parents can attend in-person but will also be streamed live and recorded for those that can’t make it to the school.
3. People: New skills and accessing a wider pool of contributors.
Parents that participate will come from a wider range of backgrounds and offer new skill sets. For instance:
- Digital communication skills are essential to capture parent attention from competing channels. Messages should be designed with mobile first in mind.
- Community management skills are vital. Especially since we have a whole generation of families that missed out last year from being properly integrated into the community. Skills in:
- fostering parent to parent connections;
- moderating and managing interest groups to create further cohesion
- attracting and motivating of volunteers
- creating engaging donation campaigns from parents and local businesses.
Last year showed that the welfare of pupils is a joint effort between staff and parents. Schools need to ensure that they are optimising their amazing pool of parent talent. Parents will trust staff more if they work together on a common goal. Two steps school staff need to take right now:
- Be more proactive in ensuring succession planning is taking place for their parent association chair. Ideally a Chair should be in charge for no more than two years. Committee members can stay longer. A deputy or vice chair should be appointed, ready and willing to take over.
- Joint participation – staff representation on the committee improves the association’s effectiveness. It also ensures that activities are inclusive of the wider community.
In conclusion: those PTAs, PTOs that soldiered on taught us a lot about how to overcome physical and emotional challenges. And build even better school communities than before the pandemic.