SIX SIMPLE STEPS TO RUNNING YOUR OWN EVENT
Organising your first event can be a challenge: this is why we want to work more and more with local authorities, who can help us “mentor” people as they set up their first Meet the Parents evening. But if you have the confidence to just go ahead and do it on your own, here are six simple steps.
1. Decide which schools you would like to invite. At Yerbury it was straightforward: there are five state secondary schools close to us, none of which is selective so the schools are available to all parents. This fits well with the philosophy of keeping friendship groups together beyond primary school, and thus strengthening the community.
2. Ask your local primary school head if they will host a Meet the Parents event at your school. This is a lot easier than hiring a community hall. It makes sense to encourage the biggest primary in your area to host the event (eg. a two form entry school) and invite along parents from nearby, smaller primaries who are feeder schools to the same secondary schools. This cuts down on the work-load of setting up events, and ensures you reach more parents.
3. Find your panellists. It is much easier if you already know parents who have children at the local secondary schools. If you don’t, you can ask your primary head for contacts and/or get in touch with the secondary schools and ask them to approach parents on your behalf. From our experience the maximum number of people on a panel is 12. To represent each school sufficiently deeply, we encourage four to six people per school (usually made up of parent + child couples). If a child has a parent who doesn’t speak English, it often works to have two children together. We rarely use Year 7 children because they do not yet know enough about their school. We also try to reflect the cultural diversity of the secondary schools who’re being represented. Sometimes we invite ex-pupils onto the panel.
We are starting to organise “mingles” after the hour of questions and answers. These are in the same school hall as the panel discussion and give parents the chance to stay and chat more privately to panellists over light refreshments etc. It works well to invite to these events more secondary school families (some of whom may be too shy to go on the panel) as well as ex-pupils and graduates from the local schools. It is helpful for the primary school parents to see how children from the local schools turn out.
4. How many events do you need? We have narrowed ours down to two evenings over consecutive weeks in September/October. This was to fit in with the open evenings the local secondary schools were organising at the same time, though it is good to try to avoid a direct clash of events on the same night. We have found that it works best if you have two to three schools per session,because then the panellists can bounce off each other. With two schools, you can have six panellists per school. With three, you can have four panellists per school. If you have too many schools on the panel it can lack depth, but sometimes it is more practical to start off with just one event and accept that there will be fewer panellists per school. We mix up the panellists so it doesn’t look as if we are pitting schools against each other.
5. How does the event run? All schools vary in their parent body: so some events run from 6 to 7pm, others a bit later according to the working patterns etc of the primary school parents. At some schools, the level of interest in the secondary options is very high so we open the evenings to ALL year groups. In others, only Years 3 and up or Years 5 and 6 might be invited. Ask your head, deputy or transition representative to do a simple introduction, then hand to you (the organiser) to chair in a very light touch way.
From experience, the sessions run themselves. If the audience’s questions are too polite, you can always reserve ten minutes at the end to ask the really tough questions on their behalf. “What do you not like about your child’s secondary school?” is always good to ask. Otherwise there is a danger that the audience find the panellists overly positive.
6. Names, numbers and feedback forms: Hand round a clip board and ask the audience to sign it and give a contact no/email address. You then have a way of approaching them for future events. It is also crucial to write out a simple feedback form and get them to fill it in on the night (you can tell them they only get a drink at the bar if they have filled it in!). It is very useful to find out whether the sessions have changed people’s perceptions of certain schools.
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