Risk and liability management is a significant and growing issue for schools around the world. Schools face ever increasingly tight legal frameworks around privacy, risk management and in some countries the advent of litigious parents who will sue for everything from poor exam results to even the mildest perception of the school placing their child in harm’s way. Some schools now employ full time staff members whose job is to prepare risk assessments and evaluate every activity for the potential for all manner of disaster.
With this in mind it’s essential schools consider all aspects of their administrative and management processes and policies. ParentPaperwork is helping schools with this by offering a platform that replaces paper forms with a secure, robust online forms system to capture, manage and report information from parents.
Let’s break down why paper forms are inherently risky in schools, and examine seven significant points of failure with paper-based forms sent home to parents.
1. Who signed the form?
Schools have an obligation to secure informed consent from the guardian of a student for excursions and other activities. That means ensuring the parent has all the necessary information to make an informed decision about their child participating in an activity. And the school needs to be confident they have secured that consent from the appropriate person.
How can you have any confidence the information provided on a form, and signature at the bottom, is from the intended parent or guardian? The paper form has been stuffed in a school bag, and presumably transported home, but schools have no capacity to validate the form was filled in by the parent. ParentPaperwork communicates directly with the nominated contacts for a student, and can add another layer of identification with Two Factor Authentication.
2. Was the form filled out correctly?
A paper form has no controls to ensure that information is entered into all the required fields. Even the design of the form is a problem – all too often class teachers simply design their own form, ignoring the mandated form created by the school, or the school’s auspicing body – the local authority, the school district. ParentPaperwork ensures staff use the correct form template, and can designate fields as required to force parents to complete the necessary information.
3. Can you read their handwriting?
Once paper forms have been returned the information needs to be transcribed often into a central report, perhaps an Excel spreadsheet. You are dependent on being able to read the parent’s handwriting, a mistake can be costly. We all know we have parents whose handwriting is illegible, can you be sure you have interpreted the information correctly? ParentPaperwork’s online forms mean parents are typing their responses to all the fields and questions.
4. Are the responses from parents being compiled correctly?
Your school’s office staff might be faced with a pile of dozens or hundreds of forms they need to collate and assemble information from. Any time information is moved from one medium to another the risk of corruption is high. Maybe they could read the handwriting, but did they then transcribe the information consistently and correctly? ParentPaperwork collates the parent responses for you, there’s no opportunity for data to be corrupted along the way.
5. Are your paper forms stored securely?
Schools must adhere to data retention policies, they vary around the world but a good rule of thumb seems to be seven years. Where are you storing your paper forms? In a box in a shed down the back of the playing fields? In the basement – the one that floods each winter? Are you really sure they are safe for the next seven years? Some schools even pay for secure off-site storage of paperwork! ParentPaperwork stores all the online form data in a secure cloud-based database, backed up constantly.
6. Can you find a form from six months ago? Five years ago?
Let’s say there was a question or query raised about an activity in the past? Can you locate and retrieve a paper form submitted by a parent two years ago? Would you have to pay your offsite document storage company to retrieve and deliver a box back to school? Is there a catalogue or index for every batch of paper forms you’ve added to storage over the years? ParentPaperwork’s online database means you can search for a particular student, parent or activity and immediately display the online form the parent completed, no matter how long ago.
7. Who has access to your paper forms?
Paper forms regularly contain highly sensitive personal information about students and parents – health information, personal circumstances and addresses and contacts, all of which is likely strictly regulated by the privacy and data protection laws in your country. How do you control access to the paper forms, or the transcribed data within the school? Can any teacher just pick up a form, or see a spreadsheet of compiled responses? ParentPaperwork provides strong user permissions to control which staff member can see what information, ensuring only those who ‘need to know’ can access personal data.
These seven points of failure should be keeping school administrators awake at night everywhere. It only takes one incident to highlight the inadequacies of old style manual processes. In today’s world any incident is one too many, and that’s why the team behind ParentPaperwork has worked hard to create the right technology solution to reduce risk and improve liability management in schools around the world, by replacing paper forms with a secure online system.