Autumn term success stories

The autumn term includes favourites such as bonfire night and Halloween. PTAs reveal the events that worked for them at the start of the school year

Laser light show

‘The sky was ablaze with the colours of the rainbow, and every neck in the school grounds craned upwards. Even better, the only sounds were the oohs and aahs of the children, utterly enchanted by the display.

As a new committee we had been keen to come up with some innovative new ideas for fundraising, and the idea for a firework display had been put forward. But as a rural school, we also knew that the loud bangs caused by such a display would be controversial, could upset local horses and dogs, and frighten some of the younger children, not to mention leaving debris scattered in fields. So, when someone suggested a laser display, it seemed like it could be the perfect alternative.

We found a supplier we liked. Lasers were cheaper than fireworks but still a pricey option at £1,800. One of our main aims was to bring the school and local community together, so we went ahead, pricing the event to cover costs. Any profit would be a bonus.

We set our ticket limit at 500 to comply with licensing laws and space limitations and advertised the event as low-noise and family-friendly. It sold out! We made a small profit on ticket sales alone.

No matter how much planning and hard work your dedicated team does, there’s always something you can’t control – just before the gates opened, there was a hailstorm and, ironically, the loudest thunder that would have drowned out any fireworks!

We sold burgers and hot dogs, rana tuck shop, Krispy Kreme doughnut stand and a bar. We made around £1,000 profit from the stalls, which we were delighted with.

Everyone loved the display – the children, their families and people from the local villages. We played music on the ground and everyone danced.

I’d recommend holding a light show – a modern, clean alternative to fireworks and just as exciting. This year, we’re planning something similar with some extra additions – ambient glow or fire performers and a silent disco to appeal to the older children.’

Ellie Torkington, PTA chair, The Coombes CE Primary School, Reading (456 pupils)

Fireworks fiesta

‘We’ve been running our fireworks fiesta event for nearly ten years now. As such, we have a set of dedicated and experienced volunteers who manage things such as the purchase and set up of the fireworks and health and safety requirements. The event is run on the school playing fields with stalls set up across our two playgrounds.

The firework fiesta event is a highlight of the village calendar and our local Silver Band regularly play. In 2016 we were particularly fortunate that 5 November fell on a Saturday, the weather was clear, and we’d done a lot of pre-promotion, so we had our largest number of visitors to date.

Ticket prices were £7.50 in advance, or £10 on the gate for adults and children 12 years and over. Children 11 and under went free, and we charged £30 for a family ticket (up to five paying family members). Our costs came to just over £5,700. This included the food, drink, glow toys, fireworks, security and our licence. Ticket sales raised £12,000, the barbecue took £2,900 and the bar £1,900. Our total profits were over £14,000 – but I would add that this was an exceptional year!

We are going to set a limit of 2,000 attendees this year to make sure that we give a good experience and reduce queuing times. In terms of advice, I’d say you need to plan early and manage your volunteers well (we need around 30 to 35 volunteers). Delegate responsibilities to sub-committees – you can’t manage it all yourself! This year the school are offering house-points and prizes to the class who manage to motivate the most parents to volunteer!

A large chunk of the money raised went towards purchasing a new minibus. We’re also saving up to install new playground equipment, which is what funds from this year’s event will go towards.’

Emma Taylor, Secretary, Friends of Pangbourne Primary School, Berkshire (214 pupils)

Note: Contact your PTA insurance provider to check any specific rules you need to adhere to when running a fireworks event.

Bonfire night

‘Our local town of Lewes has a long tradition of bonfire celebrations. Every year, on 5 November, the Lewes Bonfire Societies parade through the medieval streets carrying burning torches and effigies, and throwing firecrackers. But this is not really aimed at children, so our PTFA holds its own firework celebration, which is our biggest fundraiser of the year.

We’re in safe hands – the Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society provides the fireworks and oversees the display. We book the date a year in advance and they check our site (a field next to the school) beforehand. We have to inform the fire service, perform a risk assessment and ensure enough qualified first aiders attend.

For last year’s fireworks, the head agreed we could build a bonfire on the school field, and our Year 5 teacher ran guy-making sessions during reward time. A group of dads built the bonfire the weekend before, using wood donated by a local resident and a nearby farm.

We started with quiet fireworks for the younger children at 5:30pm and held the main show at 6:15pm. The timings encouraged people to buy food and we offered hotdogs, burgers and halloumi burgers. We sold beer from our local brewery, as well as wine, soft drinks, hot drinks and sweet treats. The school choir sang to entertain guests.

Because of the high costs of running the event we needed to attract lots of people from outside the school community, so we put flyers and posters everywhere, from book bags to the Lewes tourist office. Banners were placed outside the school and we promoted the event heavily on local social media groups. We charged £6 for adults and £4 for children and raised each price by £1 on the night. Several local businesses sponsored us in return for an advert in the programme and mentions on the PA throughout the night.

To increase profits, we sold glowsticks, flashing necklaces and bracelets. We held a raffle and tasked each committee member with sourcing two prizes.

It was a lovely clear night and 700 people came along. The event made £3,900, which will be put towards the cost of a new playground.’

Carol Rogerson, PTFA member, Iford and Kingston CofE School, Lewes, East Sussex (200 pupils)


‘Last year we held our first ‘Oktoberfest’. We arranged for five local bands to play for 45 minutes on the stage in the school hall. We also had student bands on a makeshift stage in the bar area to fill in the gaps between the headline acts. This meant that we had five hours of non-stop music! The doors opened at 5.30pm, the first band started at 6pm and the last one finished at 11pm. The bar was run by committee members and featured five local beers, two local ciders and a selection of lagers. Off to the side of the hall was a secure outside area where the BBQ was in constant use. Next to the BBQ was a tuck shop selling soft drinks and sweets. We also had face painting, hair braiding and jewellery making. We were blessed with unseasonably warm weather, so the villagers came out in their dozens. We sold 150 tickets prior to the evening through local shops, together with another 250 on the night. The crowds created a fantastic atmosphere and it turned out to be a successful night. The PTA would have been happy to break even, but in the end we raised just short of £3,000! We are now planning this year’s event and hoping it will be just as successful, as there is always something to buy for a busy school.’

Rob Bloomfield, former PTA Chair of Acle Academy, Norfolk (619 pupils)

Hanukkah fair

‘For Hanukkah last year, we joined forces with our local synagogue’s PTA to hold a fair. The synagogue organised the main shopping event, with 20 stalls selling everything from jewellery and plants to bagels and Hanukkah candles. There was even an arts and crafts stall selling items teachers had made!

Our school provided activities for the children as a way of entertaining them while their parents shopped. Children could make and design their own snow globes as gifts, have their faces painted or buy walking animal balloons – all were very popular!

The synagogue raised over £2,000, and we were able to raise £250. The main aim of our part of the event was to make sure the children enjoyed themselves, so the total was just a bonus in addition to the fun had by everyone who attended!

The synagogue gave us the space free of charge in exchange for promoting the event at our school, so there was a mutual benefit. The partnership worked well, as we were able to plan our fundraiser and then clear our ideas with the synagogue. It was a brilliant place for our small school to promote ourselves to the wider community, and I would highly recommend that other schools explore similar partnerships.’

Carra Kane, PTA Chair, Mosaic Jewish Primary School, Roehampton, London (72 pupils)

Scarecrow trail

‘For the last few years we have held a scarecrow trail in Irthington village. Last year the theme was ‘characters’ and around 25 families registered to build a scarecrow, paying £5 each. We advertised the event via school and PTA newsletters and in the parish magazine a few months in advance. The scarecrows were placed in front gardens a few days before the trail, which allowed time for a photoshoot by the local paper for some free publicity (and even a television report!). The main event took place over a weekend for a few hours each day. We invited pupils, parents and others to come to the school to buy a trail sheet for £1. This included a map of the route, which was partly on foot and partly in a vehicle. There was a cryptic clue about each scarecrow and space for people to write the correct answer, or a good guess! We asked everyone to choose their favourite scarecrow on the sheets, too.

There were some incredibly inventive entries, including Spiderman climbing up a telegraph pole, a parachutist caught in a tree, The Stig from Top Gear, and a character from Sesame Street. The overall winner was The Gruffalo, which was made by attaching a barrel, posts, and a pallet together. It was then wrapped in chicken wire, finished off with bundles of rushes tied on with twine. The teeth and claws were pieces of wood; the knobbly knees were bits of bark and the prickles, eyes and wart were made from papier-mâché. A toy mouse completed the ensemble!

When trail sheets were returned to school for the answers to be counted, we sold cream teas and ice creams to generate additional income, with many items donated by parents. There was also a book stall and a small raffle. Our costs were low, with small monetary prizes offered for the most correct answers and for the creators of the best-loved scarecrow. It’s an event that really grabbed the attention of the whole school community and beyond. Our profit last year was £481.’

Denene Kerr, PTA Chair, Irthington Village School, Cumbria (70 pupils)

Ghost Walk

‘The Isle of Wight is known for being haunted! A local author, Gaye Baldwin, writes about the island’s history, including where ghosts are meant to be. We also have a man called Marc Tuckey, who runs tours and storytellings of these so-called hauntings, myths and legends.

As our school had recently expanded up to Year 6, we wanted to do something totally different to the Halloween disco, which would appeal to older pupils. We came up with the idea of a ghost walk, and parents were encouraged to come along. I contacted Marc, who is very theatrical, and explained what we wanted. He came along and we agreed a route just beyond the school grounds. He came up with four short stories and myths, and the PTA, together with some members of staff, dressed up and strategically lay in wait!

We had two people all dressed in black, who followed the groups round in the shadows. When Marc had them engaged in a story, one would touch someone on the shoulder, or brush past them, causing them to jump! We also had another person dressed as a blue lady – she would just stroll past at a distance. Another was a drummer boy who played a drum but was never seen. We charged £3 per person and sold glowsticks, chips, burgers and hot dogs on the night. I would definitely recommend this as an event – both adults and children loved every moment.

The ghost walker cost £40, but even a good theatrical storyteller would do. The costs were kept down as we all played parts ourselves (which I have to say was so much fun!). The event lasted for about an hour. We sold glow lights before the kids went outside, which gave those lying in wait a warning that they were on their way! Overall, we made £300 profit, which was good considering we only allowed Years 4, 5 and 6 – for obvious reasons. A great alternative to trick or treating!’

Tina Tanswell, PTA Vice-Chair, Broadlea Primary School, Isle of Wight (387 pupils)

Diwali party

‘Our Diwali party was a great community event for all the family, offering an evening of food, dance, performances and prizes! Tickets were priced at £3 per child, £5 per adult or £13 for a family ticket (2 adults, 2 children). Everyone arrived in wonderfully-colourful Indian outfits, and the children loved dressing up for the occasion. The hall was decorated with beautiful saris draped over the walls and equipment, colourful paper chains and pictures of diyas that the children made. A special table was dressed and decorated to accommodate miniature statues of Hindu gods and diyas to light during the prayers at the beginning of the evening. After the prayers, we had some fantastic dance performances by the children who attend out-of-school Indian dance clubs. Each performance varied in style of dance and music and was very impressive. As a thank you, the children were presented with a certificate and small gift for their efforts. We booked a DJ who played a good mix of music, from traditional Indian and Bhangra, to current pop music. There was a short break at 5pm when a delicious Indian feast was served (a local catering company provided the food). Dancing continued until 6.30pm, when we ended the evening by drawing the raffle. During the event, another member of staff collected tickets on the door, someone sold raffle tickets, and there were around 20 staff and volunteers serving the food. It was a great community event that was thoroughly enjoyed by all the children, staff and parents and raised around £300 for the school.’

Roshnee Patel, event organiser, Friends of Vaughan School, Harrow (537 pupils)

Autumn fête and farm

‘We hold our fête in September to welcome our new pupils to our school. Last year we invited Ark Petting Farm, which usually costs £354, but we paid £300. This was our only outlay as a local business sponsored our bouncy castle. We decided that although it was quite a bit of money to pay out, we wanted to do something fun for the children. It was very simple to organise, and the team was very professional and made it very easy. They emailed us a copy of their public liability insurance, a copy of their ‘animals in transit’ document and told us what we needed to do, which was really just to advertise the event! On the day, a teacher supervised the entry gate. We offered a wristband deal – £1 per entry to the farm at a set time or £3 unlimited entry to the farm and bouncy castle (this was a winner!). This children and parents loved getting hands-on with the animals, and we had lots of positive feedback. And best of all, at the end of the visit the team cleaned up all the mess and you wouldn’t even have known that they had been! In total, we took over £1,000 after costs. Not bad considering all stalls were 50p a go!’

Syreeta Oakes, PTA Chair, Rowans Primary School, Hertfordshire (206 pupils)

Note: If external companies are bringing animals to your school, check that they have insurance which covers both the animals and any children handling them.

Autumn festival

‘Our PACA (Parent and Community Association) was established last September, and one of our first events was an autumn festival, held in October. It took about a month to plan, and to keep costs down we used school equipment such as hula-hoops and paddling pools for some of the games. One of our members designed posters, the school sent out letters and we promoted it on Facebook too.

The Festival took place outside and in the school hall. Luckily, it was a beautiful day! As an entry fee we asked for a food donation to be made to Homeless in Teignbridge Support.

We had around 12 volunteers at the event, manning stalls such as stuffed animal adoption, used-book stall, punch a cup, apple bobbing and refreshments. Our autumn lucky dip was very popular – we used a blow-up pool and filled it with leaves (gathered from parents with no dogs!) and prizes wrapped in brown paper. Other attractions included a pumpkin-carving contest (entries were carved in advance) and a game with three pumpkins donated by Morrisons, where kids had to throw a hula-hoop over a pumpkin to win a prize.

To make sure there was something in which everyone could participate, we ran a free craft table as well as a photo booth with hay bales and silly props. We used a Bluetooth speaker to play music and the whole festival was decorated with bunting. We had a great turnout and raised almost £500.’

Terrill Mayho, PACA chair, Teignmouth Community School, Teignmouth, Devon (336 pupils)

Murder play

‘I saw an article in the Times Educational Supplement about Murderplays being performed by school PTAs and, as I wanted to approach our PTA for help to fund some stage lighting, I thought this was something our senior leadership team could do for the PTA, as payback for all their efforts and as a joint fundraiser. I contacted Murderplays and was really impressed by the resources. For our first event, Who Killed the Headmaster, we started planning about four months in advance. The event was held in the school hall, starting at 7:30pm and ending at 11pm. For the first one we charged £7, which included a hot supper, but prices have since gone up and we now charge £15. Tickets were sold by the PTA to parents via their usual communication channels. Around 200 people attended, and everyone loved it – some of them have since come to all six of these events we’ve put on over the years! The events are absolutely brilliant – it’s so much fun for the cast and much appreciated by audience/parents. It was also a great way for the SLT and PTA to get together and work as a team. On the day, the PTA were in charge of everything front-of-house, including the door, the bar, food, setting up the tables, organising quiz-marking and prizes. We did the backstage element, covering costumes, make-up, lighting and sound. Our costs were about £100 per event for costumes and props (but a lot of this came out of our own wardrobes and the school drama cupboard), as well as printing costs. To boost profits we held a raffle and also the quiz provided by Murderplays. The bar was our biggest boost, and in total we’ve raised around £2,000 per event!’

Joyce Corston, assistant head, Teddington School, Teddington, Middlesex (1,283 pupils)


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