By: Tanya Weisweiller, Chair of the Home School Association at Campsbourne Primary School in North London.
I think all PTAs struggle with the same sort of issues – recruiting enough parents to help; juggling PTA commitments with everything else that’s going on; running events that make enough money to justify the effort that goes into them. When I became Chair last year, I wanted to start to address those issues.
My first goal was to make sure that every parent understood that they were part of our HSA (Home School Association). An HSA is similar to a PTA, but unlike a PTA we have no input from the school staff. We obviously abide by the school’s values and rules, but beyond that we operate independently. That’s great in some ways, but the name HSA did mean that some parents had no clear understanding of what the HSA was and where they could fit into it.
As a way to change that perception (and to welcome parents to the school) I initiated a New Welcome Evenings for all Reception and Nursery parents. As well as an opportunity for them to meet fellow new parents, it’s a chance for me to explain what the HSA is, what we do, that all parents belong to the HSA and that for it to be a success everyone needs to help out.
I talk about our events, how much we raise and the many ways in which they can help, from running stalls at events to sharing their key skills. Now we have a regular parent who works in graphic design and designs all our posters for us. We have a parent who’s a DJ and runs our discos. And we have a parent who manages food at all our events and has built up a great relationship with the school kitchen staff. I think that message of ‘We are all part of this’ is vital for all PTAs.
Classlist helps to emphasise that message about inclusion across the school. Since we introduced the site last year it’s helped to facilitate communication amongst the whole parent body. I know that HSA messages are reaching everyone. I know that all the key dates are up on the site as a reference. I know that Class Reps can send out key reminders quickly and easily. It just makes life so much easier.
Making life easier
I’m all about making life easier. Parents are busy people, so when it comes to fundraising events, my motto is ‘Get the biggest return for the smallest effort’. For example…
Cake sales. Instead of trying to get cakes in from across the school, we’ve formalised the cake sale process. At the beginning of the year we create a cake sale rota – signed off by the Head. There is a cake sale every Friday. Every class in the school is responsible for holding a cake sale twice a year. They have to bring in the cakes and run the stall. And whatever money they raise goes to their teacher, to be spent on class trips or equipment. What this also means is that the HSA aren’t responsible for running the sales – the classes are. Having the cake sale every Friday means that it has become a ritual that everyone looks forward to, so parents do remember when it’s their turn to bake. And having each classes’ dates enshrined in the school events list right at the start of the year makes them look more official (which is another prompt to parents to get baking). We find the direct allocation of funds to the class really helps motivate the parents too.
Boot sales. We used to run a jumble sale but as fun as it was for everyone it was a lot of work to prepare. As well as some amazing donations unfortunately people would tend to clear out everything so there was weeks of the HSA sorting through, selecting items that were good enough to sell, then having to find a way to get rid of the rest. Now, we’ve jacked in the jumble sale and replaced it with A Car Boot Sale. It’s so much easier! We open up the school playgrounds and sell pitches (£10 a car). We also hire out trestle tables (£5). Whatever people don’t sell, they take home and dispose of themselves. Easy for the HSA, lucrative for the school and fun for the parents. Win-win-win!
Kids’ film night. This was a revelation. We held a film night in the school for all the kids from reception to Year 6. They go home and have tea, then come back in their pyjamas, with a teddy and a blanket. Parents are required to stay on site so they are invited into the lower hall in which we set up a bar. The bar at the film night raised as much in 90 minutes as the bar at the summer fete raised in three hours! The only place that the parents could go other than watch with the kids, was into the bar, so they were bought drinks and socialised. We only charged £1 for the kids to have popcorn & a drink while they watched the film, but we made money there, too. Simple is good!