Our event was definitely at the smaller end of that scale, but it was still very interesting to experience both the general challenges of running any event that involves hundreds of people, as well as the specific issues of doing this in a school. I certainly learned a lot - and gained immense respect for those running the national events! Here are my top ten reflections. I hope they're of use to anyone organising events in schools.
1. Be clear what you want to achieve.
It helped that I'd already seen two 'Big Bang' Fairs and knew what they were about - engaging young people with technology and encouraging them to consider a wide range of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers. The fairs I'd seen also had a good blend of talks, exhibitions and workshops and it seemed important to replicate this.
Building on this, from the start we had clear goals - to hold STEM workshops for all our Y9 and Y10 students, run a Y8 Science Fair, attract a wide range of external speakers for our Sixth Formers, have a parent event and involve external schools as part of our commitment to the wider community. We achieved all these, and while we didn't involve as many external students or parents as planned, that probably made it run more smoothly (and sets up two nice challenges for next year!).
2. Get a strong team together and meet regularly
In a school it's incredibly important to have a team working on an event. There are so many things to consider and as a teacher you're also constantly being 'distracted' by the day job of teaching! We had a core team of six with many others becoming involved towards the end. We also made sure to meet regularly - fortnightly at first then weekly. Even if there seemed little to talk about at times the meetings kept us on track.
3. Explain what will happen as clearly as possible.
We found that our first challenge was communicating what the actual event would involve. A powerful tool that helped us do this was our 'dummy programme'. While we weren't sure what would exactly happen, giving an overview of talks, workshops, rooms used and timings really helped crystallise the event in others' minds. The programme evolved (and started to look better) throughout the event - you can click here to download the final version.
4. Events need a lot of help - ask early and ask everyone
To meet what we thought were fairly limited goals eventually required 30 visiting adults plus 60 teachers and support staff running or supervising 32 events and talks and a sprawling Science and Technology Fair. 350 of our own pupils and 50 visiting students and parents took part on the day.
Many of our best speakers came from personal contacts of other teachers, support staff, former students and parents. The event was expertly photographed by a member of Finance staff and videoed by a primary school teacher, while the national organisers gave us the lead speaker. We're glad we asked around.
5. Anticipate cancellations
One of the frustrations in event management is that people will drop out for many reasons - from clashes with other planned events to illness on the day. In particular we found other schools were already holding assessments, INSET days or induction days and couldn't release any staff or students - a number who had said yes found out about these later and said no! Next year we plan to set the day as early as possible, get early written confirmation - and slightly overbook.
6. Facilities, catering and staffing are key
As mentioned in point 5, schools have a lot of demands on them and you can't assume that your own school doesn't have the same issues. We met early on with the Facilities Manager, but in hindsight didn't talk to catering early enough! We also made sure that the member of SMT looking after staffing was very clear about our plans from an early stage and took his advice on board.
7. Promote your event to all internal audiences as well as external ones
Teachers, students and parents have a lot of demands on their attention and it can be easy to assume that they know all about your event. We used pre-launch events, videos, articles in our school newsletter, assemblies, staff briefings, Science lessons, letters home, the school website and our own Twitter feed to try to inform people - and even then we had to do a lot of explaining to individuals in the week before the event. We'll do even more in future!
8. Walk through the event (a dress rehearsal would be even better)
It was extremely difficult to imagine how the day would work in practice sitting in a classroom away from the actual location. It really helped that two of us walked through the rooms and discussed the event in detail in the run up to the event - it led to changes in signage, use of different rooms and a lot of IT questions.
9. Don't leave talks to chance
Reflecting on the day itself, our biggest problem was putting on a up to four talks at the same time and expecting people to evenly distribute themselves between them. In fact some (particularly the medicine one) filled up very quickly, while others looked quite bare. Every talk did have an audience, but next year we'll do a lot more work getting people to sign up in advance!
10. Keep copies of everything for future use
The first time running an event you have to produce everything from scratch. We now have risk assessments, timetables, the programme, signs, meeting agendas, logos, printed lab coats (of course!), photographs and videos and perhaps best of all a great contact book of local experts.
If you'd like to read more about the actual event, click here.