How long do schools need to retain data?

With so many students filtering through our collective school systems every year, records management has become an issue for institutions around the world. The slow pace at which many schools have upgraded from paper-based systems to electronically stored information means that standards on what is kept and how it is kept differ from one place to the next.

Storage isn’t only an issue for schools that are yet to go paperless; it also raises problems for those who store data digitally. When it comes to storing data securely, there’s always a risk that it’s not secure enough, so for how long should a school retain your personal data?

Well, it may just depend on where you live.

In Australia, the recent introduction of controversial data retention laws has sparked debate. While these laws only apply to telecommunications, they’ve still generated intense conversation about data retention across the board and how our data can be used against us. The fact that many schools use online educational tools that will collect metadata on students that could fall under these laws and, therefore, be retained for up to two years, further muddies the waters about what is collected and for how long.

Metadata aside, Australia’s laws on student data are somewhat vague. The Australian Privacy Principles state that non-government schools are required to destroy or de-identify personal information when it is no longer ‘needed’, leaving it in the hands of schools to define the meaning of ‘needed’.

Government schools are more clearly defined but differ wildly from state to state. Victorian government schools can hold data for up to a year after the student leaves while, in NSW and ACT, it can be held until the student either turns 25 or seven years after they leave.

The US
In the US, schools are not required by federal law to keep records for any set period of time. If someone has submitted a request to view your education record, however, schools are prevented from destroying it before the request is fulfilled.

State and local laws are varied, so it is possible that where you live or go to school may have more specific guidelines regarding your records. Recent legislations about how schools can use your data did not outline any changes to its retention.

The UK
In the UK, similar recommendations are in place, stating that schools should not hold personal information on students longer than is required, once again leaving it up to the school’s discretion. Recent moves in Ireland to hold students’ data until they reach the age of 30 was widely condemned as going too far.

Why retain data at all?
The risks of data retention have been extolled many times, mainly focusing on the privacy and personal information being used for nefarious purposes without our knowledge.

In Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has relied heavily on school records to investigate possible crimes by organisations. The findings showed how important data retention is for schools, and these cases have highlighted schools’ legal obligations and duty of care to students.

Schools should keep records for greater transparency and to mitigate risks, however, finding a way to do so safely and deciding how long they should be held is a tricky issue.

Many schools have to take into account their storage space, as physical files can quite literally populate room after room. If working with a paper-based system, a move to digital storage is the cheaper and more efficient alternative. Just as long as we can keep this information secure, the length of time it is held may no longer become such a prickly issue.

ParentPaperwork takes data storage and security seriously. Take a read through our FAQs.

New Feature: SMS Text Message Notifications for Parents Online Forms

We are pleased to announce the availability of SMS text notifications to parents for our online forms platform, following requests from a number of schools.

Up until now ParentPaperwork has sent emails to Parents letting them know there is a new online form waiting for them to complete and submit. Email continues to be a great way to communicate with parents, and the analysis of our data we’ve done shows this – 55% of parents respond to their online forms within 24 hours. The speed parents are responding is clear indication that they are receiving email notifications and taking action quickly.

This fantastically prompt response rate is understandable given the rise of smartphone usage over the past few years, everyone you pass on the street seems to be head down and glued to their phone reading their emails, Facebook and other communication channels.

However, we acknowledge that not every parent is fixated on their email, perhaps they do not have a smart phone, or they don’t work in a role where they are constantly in front of a computer. Instead maybe email messages are something they check every day or two.

This is why a key request from schools has been the option to also notify parents via SMS text message. SMS is a very immediate way to communicate with someone, irrespective of whether the recipient has a smart phone or perhaps an older generation model.

Enabling SMS Notifications for your School

If you wish to make use of SMS notifications you need to ask us to turn this feature on for you. Please email and we’ll flick the switch.

You can check whether SMS notifications are enabled by clicking on your User Name at the top right (after logging into ParentPaperwork). Then click Settings, and Configuration.

Importing Parent Contacts

When importing Parent Contacts you now have the option to enable email and/or SMS notifications. Remember that if you wish to use SMS notifications the Parent Contacts will need a mobile phone number. Selecting an option will ‘turn on’ the notifications for all the Parents you are importing – email or SMS.


Managing Parent Contacts

You will find Email and SMS options now within the Parent Contact records. You must have one or both of the options selected. By default Email will be selected, if SMS is not selected.


SMS Messages sent to Parents

If Parents have SMS notifications enabled, they will receive a text message notifying them of a new online form, in the same way they receive email notifications. The message includes the name of the Student, name of the School and a link to the form. This link will take them to the same online form page as if they had clicked the link in an email notification.


Parents updating communication preferences

When parents complete their online forms they now have the ability to update their communication preferences. They can select either Email or SMS or both. Depending on which options they select, the corresponding email and mobile phone fields will need values entered. For example, if they check the ‘Send SMS Notifications’ box, they will not be able to submit the form without entering a mobile phone number.



SMS Notification costs to Schools

We’ve carefully thought through the costs of providing the SMS notification service to schools, and spoken to a number of our existing customers to gauge the pricing model that will be most acceptable. We are offering two price schemes:

  • SMS costs invoiced monthly: .10c per SMS, incl GST
  • SMS costs pre-paid: .08c per SMS, incl GST

The choice becomes whether to simply pay-as-you-go, we will bill you at the beginning of each month .10c for each text you send in the preceeding month.

Or you can come up with an estimation of texts you will send over a period – say a term, a quarter or a year, and we’ll bill you .08c each.

We believe our pricing is competitive, the higher cost for the monthly bills reflects the internal costs we incur to report, generate and send invoices, record payments, chase payments and so forth.

These prices are in Australian dollars, please ask for pricing for other countries.

If you would like more information, or enable SMS notifications for your school, please email


The Virtual Field Trip Experience: part two

Last post’s review of several virtual field trips showed that, when it comes to learning online, the choices are varied, with both advantages and disadvantages to the different methods used to present these experiences.

The virtues of virtual field trips are most apparent when compared to an alternative that many schools face – not having any field trips at all. Whether it be because of budgetary reasons or problems with liability, some schools are not able to offer students these experiences or, perhaps, only able to offer very few in an academic year.

So, let’s look at some other field trip services that offer users lots of bang for little buck.

Screen Shot Field Trip Zoom

An online service that allows users access to zoos, museums and historical sites, Field Trip Zoom takes the pain out of finding suitable, high quality virtual field trips. With a searchable database of virtual field trips from a collection of US partner institutions, a subscription to Field Trip Zoom makes live educational content easily accessible from computers anywhere.

The Good
Free for teachers to sign up and browse the field trips available, Field Trip Zoom offers a one-stop solution to the virtual field trip. Software-based video conferencing is easy to set up and allows access from any classroom. The range of trips available is quite varied and only high-quality content makes the grade.

The Bad
While sign up for the catalogue of virtual field trips is free, accessing some may mean paying costs from the partner institution. Field trip Zoom takes care of the cloud-based access. The full experience of accessing ‘collaboration rooms’ is subscription based, and costs may be high for some schools.

Supporting Material
Yes, for most field trips but is provided on a trip-by-trip basis by partner institution.


Billed as the world’s biggest virtual cultural exchange, Adventure ’15 brings together over 2,200 schools across 55 nations to exchange ideas, build a global project and undertake a mutual exchange of educational ideas as a cyber event.

The Good
Bold and ambitious, this project is setting a number of goals that can only be achieved through a large-scale exchange such as this one. Projects include ‘The Book of Childhood’, which will see at least 24 schools in 24 countries in 24 timezones write a book about childhood around the world, which will later be made available as a free eBook. Adventure ’15 aims to break down borders and connect schools around the world.

The Bad
Scale. Trying to coordinate a jigsaw of schools from around the globe seems like a big undertaking and, at this stage, the details of how this virtual field trip to 55 nations will exactly work are scarce. Considering this ‘trip’ is an event happening across a few days in November, it’s not available year-round.

Supporting Materials
It’s unclear what supporting materials will be provided at this point in time.

Screen Shot Arizona State 1

One of the Internet’s great repositories for virtual field trips is provided courtesy of Arizona State University, who have carefully crafted many of the online learning packs available free on their site. From rainforests, microorganisms, ancient earth and the Grand Canyon, their virtual field trips cover a range of topics of interest to educators around the world.

The Good
High quality and free, these virtual field trips require nothing more than an Internet browser. They offer 360-degree views of selected sites with supplementary images, videos, sound effects and information on the area and topic. Some topics include labs with video interviews and questions. Overall, this is one of the best free resources available.

The Bad
Not a lot. The only complaint we had was that we wished there were more field trips available and, perhaps, if they had included some downloadable lesson plans to accompany them.

Supporting Materials
Interactive labs for selected trips.

Screen Shot Google Lit Review 2

Combining great literature with modern technology, Google Lit Trips is a lovingly put-together resource of virtual field trips that helps bring books to life. Using Google Earth, these pre-designed packages map out the locations and travels of characters and real-life historical figures from literature. The trips include passages of text, images, links to further resources and, of course, the imagery and interactivity of Google Earth. A great resource to put literary sources into perspective.

The Good
Great concept. This highly interactive project is broken into class year levels, k-5, 6-8, 9-12 and higher education, offering books aimed at each level. The trips are free and easily downloaded requiring only a computer installed with Google Earth.

The Bad
The level of detail and information available on each field trip is dependent on the person who painstakingly put the trip together. Some seem a little lighter on detail than others. Would be great with a larger range of books.

Supporting Materials
Only materials available are the information provided in each trip.

Once again, this collection of virtual field trips offer a wide range of experiences, further proving that one size does not fit all.

While virtual field trips can offer interactive insight into the subjects you teach, they’re often not able to offer the full educational benefits of actually getting students out of the classroom and into the world. However, a lot of the better virtual field trips act as great supplementary learning tool for teachers, and can help illustrate points and complement the curriculum in ways that engage young minds.

ParentPaperwork advocates actual field trips and excursions, rather than virtual ones, whenever feasible. Our platform makes organising permissions for excursions and field trips easy.

New Feature: Cut off date for Parent Responses to ParentPaperwork online school forms

We have released a new feature in ParentPaperwork, the ability to configure a cut off date for Parent Responses when they fill out and submit their online forms.


Until now there has no been no restriction on when a Parent can submit their Form, yet often events and activities need to have all Forms returned by a certain date.

The Close Responses after this Date option allows you to set a hard cut off date, after which Parents who click through to the Form will not be permitted to submit a response.



The Virtual Field Trip Experience: part one

Our recent article on the rise of the virtual field trip helped introduce the concept of an educational excursion experience when it’s not possible to physically get there, either due to budgetary or logistical restrictions.

With field trips being a favourite of students everywhere, the ability to take time out from the usual lesson plans to introduce students to new places and experience exciting things from the comfort and familiarity of the classroom has big potential to revolutionise the field trip experience.

So, the question remains, what are virtual field trip experiences like and which ones are right for your classroom? We’ve looked at three different field trips available online to share with you exactly what you can expect.

Screen Shot-The Louvre

Want to peruse renaissance art, Egyptian treasures or the world famous Galerie d’Apollon in the heart of Paris? The Louvre provides the world with a free online virtual tour of sections of its gallery.

The Good
The tour is easy to access on almost any computer system. Move from room to room and experience a 360-degree view of the collection with information about each room’s history, as well as the ability to select works of arts to enjoy a close-up view and detailed information. The tour offers a real feel for the space and includes the underground section with original walls of the keep and moat from the Louvre’s days as a fortress in the 12th century (a little trivia of which students may not be aware).

The Bad
The collection featured is limited to three rooms and not all works of art have close-ups and information available; the biggest disappointment being that one of the most famous works, the Mona Lisa, is not included – purchase an airfare for that one.

Supporting Material
None, you’ll need to put together your own lesson plan.


America’s history comes to life thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia – home of the American Revolution. The 301-acre historic area features restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings populated with costumed interpreters. A lot of work has gone into creating this educational space and their online component is no different. Their ‘Electronic Field Trips‘ are interactive in every sense of the world, allowing students to participate in a retelling of the story of America.

The Good
A lot. The whole website is a trove of information that doesn’t shy away from some of the harsher truths of the era. Its virtual field trip component is top-notch. Streamed live, the field trip features a pre-recorded story. Whether it is in drama, documentary or game show format, this section is followed by a live Q&A segment where students call, tweet or send in their questions, and then characters or historians answer these questions live. The themes change from one field trip to the next and cover a many different disciplines including history, science and even maths.

The Bad
Although the live streams are free, they’re based in the US, meaning schools in other countries may have trouble participating live. The trips meet US curriculum standards but could be adapted to meet the needs of other countries. To access the catalogue of previous field trips and associated resources, a subscription is required.

Supporting materials
Resources for all broadcasts, including live streams, are only provided to those subscribed to the History Education Resources Online system (HERO). These resources include games, activities, resources, lesson plans, glossaries and overviews that teachers can use with students.

Screen Shot-NASA

We might be a few years off going to Mars yet but NASA’s Ames Research Centre have provided some fun and educational virtual field trip experiences that allow students to explore areas on earth that are being studied due to their likeness to the red planet. The Ames Research Centre site also features similar programs that explore the solar system and mathematics.

The Good
This downloadable application takes students to a surface view of a survey site with a 360-degree panorama with which students can interact. The program allows students to select objects and scientists around the site, and learn why the site was chosen and how it matches up to the surface of Mars. The software is free, features videos and multimedia resources.

The Bad
The software needs to be downloaded and is quite large (1GB). Currently, there is only one ‘field trip’ and two related educational programs with plans to expand the collection in the future.

Supporting Materials
None for the Mars field trip, but the two other programs come with full lesson plans.

These largely area-specific resources market themselves as virtual field trips but offer three very different experiences for students and teachers, highlighting how flexible the notion of the virtual field trip experience can be. Each trip has its advantages and disadvantages and are worth exploring, if only to identify what will work best in your learning environment.

Next time, we will look at another set of virtual field trips which offer broader, more flexible experiences for users… Stay tuned…

ParentPaperwork advocates actual field trips and excursions, rather than virtual ones, whenever feasible. Our platform makes organising permissions for excursions and field trips easy.

ParentPaperwork announces Single-Sign-On for Google and Office 365 users

ParentPaperwork is pleased to announce the availability for both Google and Office 365 Single Sign On (SSO).

Increasingly schools in Australia and around the world are moving to implement a range of cloud-based technology services, it is not unusual for a school to have a couple of dozen online tools and services deployed including student and learning management systems.

This week ParentPaperwork joins the list of technology providers to schools offering both Google and Office 365 sign in capability. School staff can log into ParentPaperwork using the same user name and password they use across other applications in their school. The login is seamless and gives instant access to ParentPaperwork’s unique online forms platform without the school’s ICT staff configuring and managing individual user accounts within ParentPaperwork.

Schools wanting to enable SSO for their ParentPaperwork account should email, including their SSO domain name. There is no additional cost to schools for this feature.

What makes a good teacher?

With an ever-growing list of challenges and the daily juggle of competing demands, the teaching profession is a rapidly changing landscape that can only be navigated by those who are passionate about the job and strong-willed enough to get it done.

With heavy workloads and little time, many teachers find it difficult to achieve a balance between their working life and home.

A recent survey by the Guardian Teaching Network found that, by large, teachers in the UK feel overworked and undervalued, with 82% saying their workload is unmanageable and only four in 10 saying they are happy with their job.

So what does it take to overcome these challenges and be the best teacher you can be?

Chris Short, Head Learner at Bradshaw CP School in the UK town of Warrington, agrees that time is one of the big challenges facing teachers today.

“Being able to plan and mark effectively so that each lesson is relevant and that your marking promotes learning is always a challenge, especially with the number of other tasks that teachers in schools have to take on, such as subject leadership,” says Chris. “For a committed teacher there is always the desire to do ‘that bit more’, which can take away from home-life time.”

It’s a sentiment shared by special education teacher Maura Zancan, who has been in the profession for 34 years; 27 of which have been at her current role at New Fairfield Middle School in New Fairfield, Connecticut, USA.

“It is very difficult for teachers to balance school and home commitments. So, often, lesson plans and additional schoolwork are done at home because of the commitment teachers have to both their profession and their students,” says Maura. “The common things I see teachers struggling with today is finding the time for specialised instruction for students who are well below grade level, and just finding time in general to meet demands of administration, colleagues and students.”

With over 15 years in the profession, Chris Short believes having energy and enthusiasm for the job despite the daily struggles is one of the keys to good teaching.

“Keep the children at the centre of everything you do,” says Chris. “It’s important to be flexible and willing to take risks so the children receive a variety of learning experiences that engage and excite them.”

For Maura, this enthusiasm is spurred on by her passion for teaching. It’s something that is at the heart of her working life.

“A good teacher in the 21st century exhibits passion not only for what they are teaching but also for the individual, creative minds they encounter,” says Maura. “This passion is contagious and ignites the curiosity and learning of the students that enter the classroom each day.”

There are many opinions online about what makes a good teacher. For Chris and Maura, there are a few key qualities that lift a teacher to a higher standard:

  • Fine-tune your listening skills; encourage students to question and search for answers to those questions, and be flexible and nurturing;
  • Make the children feel safe and secure so they are happy to make mistakes and they understand that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process;
  • Make humour an integral part of the day; good teachers laugh at themselves imparting a profound lesson to the students: in every mistake, there is a potential for growth; and
  • Accept that your job lasts long after the bell rings; your students should never be far from your thoughts.

Although every teacher has their own way of getting things done, collaborating with others is a great way to sharpen your skills and build on your strengths. For new teachers, veterans Chris and Maura each have their own piece of advice to offer.

“Learning truly is a lifelong adventure. Keep abreast of current trends in education and get out there on social media,” says Maura. “Twitter, and now Facebook, are powerful tools for learning and allow for involvement in professional communities. Collaborate with your colleagues at work and keep an open mind… flexibility will go a long way.”

Chris agrees but warns that you need to be selective when dealing with those who might have a negative point of view of the school or the profession that might bring down your morale.

“Take on as much advice as you can but be wary of the energy consumers in the staffroom,” say Chris. “Try and understand how much good you can do each day, even with a little comment. Oh, and join Twitter!”

With thanks to Chris Short and Maura Zancan for their invaluable contributions to this blog post

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