John Roan School Association: Raising thousands to bridge lockdown learning gap

Fundraising Supporting Learning Secondary England
05 April 2021
When Eve Daniels became Chair of the John Roan School Association three years ago, she wanted to transform their enthusiastic friends group into a fundraising powerhouse for the whole community. After registering as a charity at the start of lockdown, the PTA began an ambitious project, aiming to bridge the learning gap that lockdown opened up…

Within the first term of my daughter starting I made the conscious decision to get involved in school life by attending a PTA meeting. I quickly became an active member of the group and helped out wherever needed.” JRSA had ambitions to raise their profile and to be taken more seriously by the school and parents. So when Eve agreed to take on the role of Chair, it was with this in mind. I made the decision that if I’m taking this on it has to change. I wanted to make a real difference. I didn’t want to raise tens of pounds, I wanted to maybe change the IT department or build a stage for the drama department, and that all costs thousands — not tens — of pounds.”

Charity status: opening doors, minds, and pockets

Eve recognised that by becoming a registered charity, there was potential to raise a lot more money from grants, Gift Aid, and through matched funding: I said to the committee, I really want to take us to charity status,’ and one of my amazing volunteers, Trish Bullen, offered to talk to Parentkind. She took the bull by the horns and went through all of your guidelines, she used your Constitution and filled in all the paperwork… she pushed it through the Charity Commission in four weeks.”

I’ve wanted to change our school PTA into a charity for so long and it was down to your guidelines that made it happen. We can now get Gift Aid from every tax payer’s donations which has helped us buy lots more Chromebooks for our students to help them do well and learn without hassle.”

One of the keys to JRSA’s success is its organisation. The JRSA has a small board of trustees, and two chairs who delegate responsibilities; whilst Eve sets agendas, manages expectations, liaises with the Head on daily issues, and executes plans, her co-chair, Neil Kennett Brown, manages the six JRSA meetings held each year. The trustees all have very clear roles and we play to our strengths to best support the charity. Trish creates all our advertising and graphic work, as well as volunteering her time at events. Livy is an excellent writer and leads a sub-committee who write letters, press releases, and good news stories. Amber is our secretary, taking minutes at all meetings and also facilitating JRSA support at school events. Sandra is a teacher within another school, and brings her experience of a different education context into play with us in the JRSA. Ian has recently joined as treasurer, managing the accounts and fundraising technical platforms. Finally Vicky has also joined us recently, as a parent of two sons already in the school and with another two children joining in the future. She has strong links to our primary schools so she can help with the transition to secondary, and also volunteers to support in any way she can at our events and with our fundraising throughout the year.”

The 120 Campaign

When lockdown came in March 2020, Eve and the JRSA worked hard to build awareness of the digital divide that existed between those who had access to technology to support remote learning, and those who did not. Since pupil premium recipients make up more than 50% of our school community, we knew that accessing lessons from home and participating in online learning was going to be very difficult for many of our young people.

So we launched the 120 Challenge, with the aim of raising enough money to buy 120 Chromebooks, loanable to students for use at home. The fact that the laptops were available at the subsidised price of £120 each (we had a pledge for match-funding from both United Learning, our new academy sponsor and The John Roan Foundation) meant our target was £14,400! It was a big stretch, but we encouraged everyone to get on board in whatever way they could, taking on a personal or group 120 challenge of their own and being sponsored for their efforts, or donating to support the endeavours of others.”

What did the 120 Challenge look like? Well, staff, parents, and students got very creative; crafting 120 hand-made bunting triangles and selling them, sketching 120 portraits, playing the piano for 120 minutes using self-composed music, completing 120 watercolour paintings, cycling 120 miles, climbing 12 flights of stairs 120 times in a row (which lasted for 9 hours!), jogging 120km as a team, enduring 120 seconds of head shaving, and even hula hooping 120 times in a row. We also had our very own 120-themed virtual quiz night to add to the efforts,” Eve says. With so many people pulling together it only took us five weeks to reach our target and go beyond — raising more than £15,000 in order to turn our hopes into reality with the purchase of 120 Chromebooks.”

Staff and students immediately felt the difference. Rosie Masson, History and Lead RE teacher, says, The Chromebooks were an absolute lifeline for some students during both lockdowns. Having a Chromebook allowed students to access their lessons, get feedback from their teachers, and experience a sense of normality, hearing the voices of their peers and teachers. Coming out of lockdown, students have continued to make good use of the devices by using them to revise and complete homework.” 

With the success of the 120 Challenge, Eve and the team are now looking at other ways to improve the school and local community. Now we know the strength of the community, we are now on a roll to see what we can achieve next.”

Since then, they have started planting an edible garden in the school grounds, to be run by students and community volunteers, in collaboration with departments in the school. Over lockdown, they planted over 300 bulbs, and now they are planning and designing the plot. The produce grown will be used in the students’ food tech lessons, the art department to dye textiles, as well science experiments. 

They’re also now producing a newsletter, which is a really positive look at what they’ve been getting up to. It’s reported that they were able to give an Easter egg to every member of the John Roan staff, thanks to a generous donation to JRSA from a parent. Other recent fundraising efforts have been put to good use as well – they recently were able to contribute towards several school projects, including:

  • A visit for Year 9 to hear from an author
  • Advanced graphic calculators for post-16 Maths and Further Maths students
  • A donation towards the Year 11 boat party, so that no-one missed out due to financial constraints
  • Year 7 art initiatives

Reflecting on the JRSA’s success, Eve says, I’ve wanted to change our school PTA into a charity for so long and it was your guidelines that made it happen. Use your Parentkind membership — because of the Parentkind constitution and guidance, becoming a charity is easier than you’d imagine. We thought it would take ages, but it only took about four weeks. You can call Parentkind’s Membership Support Team on 0300 123 5460 to discuss any aspect of your PTA that you’re not sure about! We can now get Gift Aid from every taxpayer’s donation, which has helped us buy lots more Chromebooks for our students to help them do well and learn without hassle.” 

Eve is pleased that the perception of the group has shifted away from being, A group of parents that make teas and coffees at parents evening — that’s just a small part of our role in supporting the school.” The team truly are #ProudToBeJohnRoan. We wish them the best of luck with their future projects.

With thanks to Eve Daniels and the JRSA.