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Primary Education News
News New-look school fairs mean business when it comes to raising money
Champagne and holidays among prizes on offer as fundraising becomes ever more important for parent teacher associations
The traditional school fair was often a summer ordeal to endure, rather than enjoy. A few hours despairing of the futility of life while trying to hook a duck, with only a dusty bottle of Blue Nun to show for it.
But as parent teacher associations (PTAs) become more ambitious and fundraising becomes ever more important, schools across the country have transformed their summer events, ditching Lambrini for champagne, and dog-eared board games for holidays.
"It's completely changed. I remember it used to be a couple of stalls and some warm soft drinks, but now there is much more hype," said Chris McNamara, head of the PTA at Oakdene community primary in Rainhill, Merseyside. "It is a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and there is definitely a competitive edge to it. In our area there are three schools, and each one wanted to be the best and offer the best prizes in the raffle."
Such prizes in some affluent areas range from weekends away in parents' holiday homes to Apple gadgets untouched in their boxes. "We really upped our game in the last couple of years, with a raffle with real gifts to be won to get people to put their hands in their pockets," said Angela McCormack, an advertising manager who helped organise her Carribean-themed school fair in Harrow-on-the-Hill, London.
PTAs are using Facebook and Twitter to draw in a wider net of parents and use their skills and contacts, said Siobhan Freegard, founder of the parenting site Netmums. "We see a lot of mums with professional backgrounds are finding their schools are less interested in them manning the cake stand and more in what business contacts they can bring to the table. But I also think a lot of parents have seen the second-hand tat on offer, have thought they could do much better and have rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in."
Olivia Brown, a self-employed interior and events designer, created a summer fair around an Alice in Wonderland theme at Whittington primary in Staffordshire and used Facebook to source prizes. "We definitely upped the ante this year, and at the end had 250 to 300 people who went home with light hearts and lighter pockets."
Companies, such as local estate agents, are increasingly being encouraged to sponsor the fairs, provide funds or donate prizes in return for a mention in the programme or a banner on a school field. Barclays is one of several firms which matches the funding raised by their employees, while others sponsor schools as part of their corporate social responsibility schemes.
"PTAs have really upped their game in the past five years or so, and some of them are now incredibly successful and running as small social enterprises," said Annette Wiles, of PTA UK, a charitable body that supports PTAs. "We're seeing more creativity and people moving beyond the school and linking up with business, seeking out sponsorship. It's a mutually beneficial relationship."
Wiles added that, although the upmarket shift was marked in some schools, it was the fete staples that still often brought in the crowds. "Putting headteachers in the stocks and throwing sponges at them is still unsurprisingly popular," she said.
It is not just about pushy parents, though, according to Lisa Stone, still recovering after helping raise £10,000 at her children's primary in Putney. With extra funding for schools drying up and difficult economic times, schools need extra funds more than ever. "It's so important, for state schools in particular, to get that extra funding," she said. "Parents know the schools can't afford the things they want their children to have, they know what the funds are for and they see the benefits immediately."
Some have taken fundraising to the next level. At Cathy Ranson's son's sixth-form college in Buckinghamshire, students visited parents asking them to pledge money over a period of years to fund a new building. Within a few months, Chesham grammar school had raised the required £500,000. "If you are lucky enough to have parents at the school it makes a big difference," she said. "I think PTAs are getting better at targeting valuable parents, looking at what skills they have and what they can offer."
Which works well in leafy Buckinghamshire, or affluent north London suburbs. But in schools where parents are struggling to make ends meet, it is much more of a challenge, said writer and mother Natasha Edwards. She has found it difficult to attract much-needed funds for her son's school fair in Harlesden, north-west London.
"There are two sides to this story," she said. "If your school is in the middle of a housing estate and nearly 40% of the kids are on free school meals, businesses are just less keen to get involved." A neighbouring school, with more affluent parents, had an iPad in the raffle; another was offering a week's holiday in a house in Spain that belonged to one of the parents. "Our school has a different intake and some of the parents lack the language skills and confidence to get involved," said Edwards.
She convinced a local estate agent to fund the bouncy castle, and was heartened when Tesco and Homebase offered help. The Argos, Superdrug and Poundstretcher stores on the parade of shops close to the school were less willing to help, she said. "It can be frustrating. But the great thing is, like any school fair, you see parents from all different backgrounds contributing what they can to make their child's school better."