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Photograph: Mohammad Jangda via flickr

How to host the perfect parents’ evening about Unis

Parents are often the strongest influence on the decisions children make about their futures. They are not, however, always the most effective source of information, often drawing from personal experiences and stereotypes to push or pull their children in a certain direction.

Parent evenings, career fairs, higher education exhibitions: all are integral parts of the Careers, Information, Advice and Guidance (CIAG) provision that schools provide their students. But how do you ensure it is a success; that your students and their parents are adequately informed and advised about future choices?

As educational advisers and teachers, you have an enormous responsibility. In addition to guiding young people through their journey, whether it’s post-16 or post-18 year olds, you need to ensure they are given an opportunity to make the right decisions. On top of that you are often expected to act as event managers, and organising the smooth running of parents evenings is no easy task. This may make things easier…

TIP 1: The Keen Exhibitor

When you set your date, take into account times of year that are best for your students’ timetables, plus any events in the community you may clash or connect with. Then you must consider who you want to actually invite.

Ideally you want a range of universities and educational institutions represented, as they all offer different specialities, entry requirements and ethos. As many universities have school liaison staff who cover most of the country, you are not restricted to inviting only your local universities. Some school liaisons could even be in your area around the date of your event.

If you are struggling to get through to the right person or office at an institution, try asking to speak with the ‘schools and colleges liaison department’ or the ‘recruitment and outreach team’. Let them know you have students wanting to engage and find out more about the courses their institution offer. If you can provide some sort of refreshments on their visit, that’s always a bonus!

TIP 2: The Passive Visitor

At school fairs, you’ll regularly see the slightly nervous, passive students who will be taken from stand to stand by an eager parent. Sometimes you’ll even see both parties equally uninterested in engaging with what can appear to be an overwhelming information-fest. But there are ways you can engage your students and their parents to make the hard work you put into the event go further.

Give your students a briefing in assembly or tutor groups/registration. You can always tell, when speaking to a student, if the event has been sprung on them or not. Set an activity such as a ‘future action plan’ that could be a simple mind map where students think of subjects they like, careers they could consider and routes into their potential career. You can give them a prospectus to look at and direct them to the UCAS website. The HEAP universities guide is also a great resource.

Alternatively, you can create a programme for the evening. Have a list of exhibitors, their names and a brief description of the institution. This allows time for parents and students to prepare and also means they can cross reference who they have/haven’t spoken to that evening. Go further and create a competition among students to collect a stamp or sticker from each stand, which they receive from the Rep if they ask a question or collect a prospectus. Whoever collects all the stickers is entered into a prize draw!

Think about incorporating a series of talks into your evening. Universities will come and do short talks on applying to university, navigating student finance and writing a personal statement. These can be a nice break from looking around stands, or they can aim to help prepare students and parents for their time browsing the exhibition. Why not ask one of your ex-students who has a nice success story to come back and talk to your current students? They will likely enjoy the chance to visit their old school or college and show off how well they have done.

TIP 3: Event Manager’s Little Helper

Some of the best school events are where you are politely greeted by a pupil in the car park, who then helps you transport your heavy equipment into the school hall. This gives the student valuable experience communicating with visitors and assisting at an event. Plus: they may even be persuaded to browse the stands themselves, getting a head start in their own research.

If other school staff can be persuaded to attend the event, even for a quick browse, it can be invaluable for contributing to their own higher education knowledge. A great parents’ evening also involves networking and finding out exactly what educational institutions can offer your students, so that fellow school staff can pass on their knowledge and answer questions back in the classroom. A good schools liaison officer will be on the end of the phone for a friendly chat whenever you need any admissions-related information.

FINAL TIP: Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

Make your information evening reach its full potential each year by collecting feedback from students and parents. Ask them to complete a form on their way out, by popping it in a box or having a handy helper student collect them near the exit.

In frantic moments, it can be easy to forget why you’ll spend weeks chasing up exhibitors, getting the kitchen staff on your side and sending out waves of letters to parents, but remember your students will benefit hugely from your efforts – even if they don’t show it.

Having a range of institutions and their representatives in one place is extremely important to opening up the future decisions of young people, and so is the confidence pupils will gain simply by having a conversation during such events.

What are your insider tips or personal stories about good / disaster parents evenings? Share below or email us at

Posted by Hannah Robinson on Tue, 31 Jan 2017

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Hannah is an Outreach Officer at the University of East Anglia, working with Norfolk schools to increase the aspirations and attainment of young people while dispelling myths about HE. She joined the Recruitment and Outreach team in 2012 after completing her degree in Media Studies and working in Marketing and Communications for the Student Union. Hannah organises educational outreach events on campus, leads on strategy for secondary schools, working particularly close with schools in West Norfolk.

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