With so few pupils in attendance and no external visitors to fund, you might think that schools have saved money since lockdown. But, according to a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers, English schools are, on average, £25,000 down after coping with the costs of coronavirus, with lost income accounting for around £15,000 and additional costs the rest.
In an interview with ITV News at the end of the school year, Simon Kidwell, headteacher of Hartford Manor Primary School in Cheshire told how his school had spent £16,000 to keep the children clean, safe and secure. Adding in losses from cancelled nursery and pre- and after-school classes, the school is £50,000 down in total.
Hartford Manor PTA chair Michelle Bebbington told us: 'Our fundraising total was just below £10,000 before lockdown and we were on course to hit our £20,000 target. As the schools closed, we made a conscious decision as a PTA to put fundraising on hold. Towards the end of the summer term we were able to hold some virtual quizzes, an online group challenge and a virtual balloon race event. In total, we raised around £13,000 for the year.'
At Ann Edwards CofE Primary in South Cerney, Cirencester, school business manager Kevin Parker has been investing heavily in cleaning materials, PPE, resources and signage. 'We certainly haven't viewed this time as an opportunity to save money,' he says. 'We are aware there is Covid-19 emergency funding available, but it will be extremely ring-fenced and it's not completely clear what will be eligible.'
Our school used to raise an extra £1,500 each academic year from lettings to external clubs, with the summer term being the most lucrative. We don't know when that might start up again.'
The PTA at Ann Edwards is also short of its target. 'We were hoping to raise around £10,000 this year,' says PTA chair Sarah Delbridge, 'but we felt it was appropriate to pause our activities at the start of lockdown. We think we actually made just half that amount.'
So how should PTAs approach the coming year? 'We will review which events can be run within the current guidelines,' says Michelle Bebbington. 'Maybe once we get an update on gatherings, we will be able to hold adult events such as "Fashion and Fizz" and Christmas wreath-making. We're kicking off the new school year with a sponsored bike ride, and we'll do our utmost to at least match last year's total.'
'The PTA will also be an excellent point of contact for new families,' says Simon Kidwell. 'Although it won't be possible to meet in school, they can still visit by prior arrangement to access resources. The PTA can build the community cohesion which is every bit as important as fundraising.'
There's a spirit of working together at Ann Edwards too. 'We have arranged our virtual AGM and will start planning from there,' says Sarah Delbridge. 'We'll look at what we want to achieve and work out if the school or the PTA can do it best. I think all PTAs will have to work closer with their schools in the next few years. At first, parents will be exhausted and the challenge will be to engage them in what we're doing.'
'We need to get parents invested in what the PTA and the school are doing,' says Kevin Parker. 'The PTA can get the children fired up about fundraising again, and I'll be talking to Sarah and the rest of the committee to establish how we can work together for the best results.'
Time for a checkup
Now is the perfect moment to conduct a PTA health check, says Paul Kaerger.
In the same way you'd check the roadworthiness of your car by taking it for an MOT, your charity will also benefit from a regular health check to ascertain what's working and which areas might benefit from some attention. As we start to adapt to different ways of working and while we are still facing an uncertain future, a health check is something that can help reinvigorate the team and kick-off preparations for the new school year.
Taking time out to assess the health of your PTA has clear benefits:
- It helps you spot problems before they turn into major headaches.
- It helps you work more effectively.
- It gives you a chance to step back and brings the committee together as a team.
A charity health check need not be a huge and complex undertaking, but it does require a little forethought and effort. Use it as a way of opening up discussions on topics you may not usually encounter. Working through a list of questions in a group helps everyone on the committee understand that there is more to consider than just the next fundraising event. Either arrange one-to-one video chats with key people, or get a group into your back garden and ask for their ideas. Remember, the aim is to check what is happening and identify any gaps. Here are some areas to consider:
Having a clear purpose and some well-defined goals helps everyone pull in the same direction and will prevent your committee from becoming overwhelmed with well-meaning suggestions. It binds the team together.
Ask yourself whether it is clear what the PTA is there to do. Does it have a clear purpose and clear goals? (Take a look at your constitution and at the key objectives.) Is the committee aware of these objectives? Do parents understand the role of the PTA?
The committee is core to the work of the PTA so it is important that it functions effectively. Are the roles for chair, treasurer and secretary filled? What other roles do you have? Do committee members know what their roles are? Does the committee reflect the school in terms of year groups, ethnicity, background, etc? Diversity is a vital driver for creativity. How can you reach out to include others?
Having a clear idea of income and expenditure, and any risks to your budget, helps you put in place actions to mitigate in good time.
Think about how you generated money in the past. Are there new ways to generate income while we are still being socially distant? Would you like to work with local businesses to gain sponsorship or donations?
Does everyone have a clear idea of the budget? Are there longer-term financial goals? What is the process for checking the accounts or signing off expenditure? Are there clear audit trails for money? Are you planning to set up contactless payments and online payment systems? If so, have you thought about how you will keep track of this money?
PTAs are volunteer organisations. People volunteer for lots of different reasons and keeping them engaged and happy will make your work a lot easier.
Examine who gets involved. Are they enjoying their roles? Do they feel engaged and valued? Do you actively seek to get new volunteers? How long do people stay for? Why do they stop? Do you have succession planning in place for key people in your organisation, such as event organisers, chair and treasurer, in case their circumstances change and they have to step down?
PTAs frequently work closely with other organisations in order to succeed in their work. Those relationships require care. Who do you collaborate with? Do you work with Lions, Scouts or other community groups? What about other local organisations? How are those relationships? What can be done to strengthen them? How can you make them work in the current circumstances? Take a look at your relationship with the school. If there is tension, what can be done to help you all move on together?
As you can see, these are wide-ranging questions but they are an excellent way of focusing the team and picking out issues and opportunities. Discussing these items in committee meetings can be an excellent team bonding exercise too.
Performing the assessment is just the beginning. When you have the answers to your questions, use them to generate a list of priorities and begin to set meaningful and achievable goals. While you undoubtedly need to include fundraising goals in the mix, you may also decide on other targets such as recruiting new committee members or setting up a second-hand uniform service. Speak to the school to find out what they want, when they need it and what is possible within their guidelines. Whatever you decide, remember to celebrate every achievement and make sure you thank your team and all those involved for their hard work.
- Paul Kaerger is a consultant and management trainer. He has been a school governor and charity trustee and now works with charities and small businesses delivering leadership training. pkms.co.uk.
Set the right goals
You might think setting objectives sounds too corporate for a PTA, but well-defined goals are a powerful way to stop your group pulling in different directions and becoming overwhelmed with suggestions.
Try following this five-part method used by project managers to create SMART objectives.
Specific: What is the goal? Why do we want to hit this goal? Who will be involved?
Measurable: Actual amounts or real deadlines. How much money did we raise? How many committee members were recruited?
Attainable: Do you have the skills, equipment and finances available to help you get there? Do you have the backing of the head? Will they help with promotion, and is access to the school possible?
Relevant: Does it align with the overall goal of your PTA and the school? Is now the right time to be doing this?
Time-bound: Some goals may be long-term, such as funding a new playground, while starting up a Facebook group could be done much more quickly.
Example objective: Raise £1,000 to pay for online learning resource subscriptions by January 2021 with not more than £100 outlay and using current committee members. How will you do it? Hold a virtual event in December.
Break it down further: Research and select an event, and assign job roles in October. Approach local businesses for sponsorship - if required - and promote in November.
Once you've got a rough framework for the year it's easier to see where you might go wrong or where resources may overlap. Use your objectives as a guide to give you confidence and to help keep the school updated on your progress. If you don't achieve your goals, assess why that happened and use this to learn for the future.