I still recall wondering around my preferred school at 10 years old with my mum looking to see if it was for me. In honesty it was a foregone conclusion (if I passed the Kent test) as my sister went there, I think my mum just wanted me to feel included in the process but all the same I remember three specific parts of it –
My Memories –
- Firstly I remember what when the parents were in the hall the gym was set up for the kids. They had the climbing apparatus out and the trampoline, things I’d never seen before, it was amazing.
- The thing in science that you stand in a plastic tray and touch and your hair stands on end, which I now know is called a Van de Graaff (not from school…I don’t think I ever saw that again after the open evening!).
- A maths room where some problems using unit cubes had been put out and everyone else struggle to complete it and me doing it quite quickly. I remember my mum’s face and her being pretty proud (I was a borderline pupil and dyslexic…I think my mum worried about me in the grammar system. Maybe that moment made her feel better about my want to go with my sister to a grammar (but that’s another blog post!))
What Tips can we gain from this
So with open evening/day/morning upon us it’s time to think about these things to create open evenings that are of use to parents and show what the school is truly about. This is what I learnt from my childhood memories and from having been at open mornings/days/evenings across state and independent secondary, primary and Prep. schools.
- The Heads Part – Don’t go on too long if you are a Head teacher or SLT. Parents are giving up an evening after a long working day, don’t overload with info. Keep it to the point and make it clear that your staff will fill them in on the rest. Make it clear that you have an amazing staff and you are passionate about the school and pupils. In reality that’s mostly what the parents want to hear (and see). Also don’t make the future pupils be in this…they will be board and parents don’t want to have to worry about this, do like my school did – have a hall set up with staff ready to look after (it was also there when I went with my sister to look round when I was younger so great for younger children so parents can engage fully).
- Provide Snacks – We all know budgets are tight in schools but a few snacks and squashed could go a long way on these evenings. Many of the parents have come straight from work and won’t have been able to fit in food, let alone the children’s. Maybe even set up the canteen like a normal school day so that this is part of showing the parents the good set up you have there too.
- The Route – Don’t make the parents go all across the school, create a map and keep it short and sweet with some of your best points. Or even have two routes and ask parents how much time they have and they can choose. How amazing to see from the staff you have parents time as a priority! Also how about a quiz for the pupils and their siblings as they go round to keep them entertained? A treasure map with questions to spot about unique fun things in the school maybe? Also how about a list of common Q&As for the parents to take away? Often people are tired getting to these things and they forget to ask important questions.
- The Rooms – Make sure rooms are clean and clutter free. Get display boards up to date and change them slightly from last year. You might have parents of other children looking round and you don’t want them to loudly exclaim that nothing has changed.
- Activities – Have thing in the rooms that are interactive…but don’t overdo it! It’s obvious when items are just put out for effect and staff won’t be confident with it. Keep it simple and keep it challenging (but not too hard, keep the pupils and parents engaged). In Maths use unit blocks for special awareness, in science recreate an experiment that is done in lessons, in RS recreate The Trolley Problem with toy trains and ask for feedback.
- Don’t forget the extras – Add some areas for SEND staff to be able to talk to parents about the amazing work they do. Have an area for the pastoral team and explain here about the importance of pupil well-being and how you combat this. Make it clear your school’s aim is to look after the whole pupil…not just the curriculum side of things. Do you do anything else to support learners? Show it off! Also don’t shy away from the harder topics. Explain how your school combats bullying and mental health, parents know all schools have these issues and would be happier knowing you combat it rather than shy away from it!
- The extra extras – Add information about the clubs that go on, extra things the pupils can do without and outside the school. Maybe even have past pupils come back and speak if you are at a secondary school.
- The Pupils – Get pupils from the school involved and explain their roll clearly to them. Explain that they are being promoted to marketing executives and give badges to show the level of responsibility and trust. Maybe have a walk round with them to pick out key points or have a crib sheet to aid them. Make them feel that they can ask the staff if they are unsure on a question rather than making something up!
- The Staff – Though low down the list this is highly important. It’s the start of an academic year, your staff are already tired and stress and now they have to stay until gone 8pm after a long school day that potentially started at 7am. Look after them. Many will not bother going home in the trapped time so look after them. Treat them to a good dinner with cake! Have a TV set up somewhere and tea and coffee ready for them, or hire a masseur to come in! They are your main sales team and if they look tired and don’t feel engaged then you’re on a losing battle without thinking about anything else.
- Don’t start planning in September! – It’s one of the most important nights for funding (though I hate schools being pitted against each other we can’t pretend they’re not, sadly) so don’t start planning it at the start of the academic year. Plan it well before…at least the logistics. This allows you to think about how it will all run and who will be needed for the night and plan a budget around it.