School emergency management in the spotlight

Police tape at emergency

In a little under one week more than 30 schools in Australia, and schools in the UK, France, Japan, Hawaii and Guam, have experienced the threat of serious emergencies and undergone lock-downs. This is a global issue, and can hit acutely local.

Bomb hoaxes have highlighted the need for schools to have active crisis management plans in place and well-rehearsed. An event like this impacts on students, staff, parents, emergency services, local residences, neighbouring schools, transport services and the media.

Once the safety and security of all the students and staff of a school has been organised, communicating with parents is essential. It’s equally important to communicate with the family of staff. If you do not, they will.

The immediate, emotional effects of a school emergency exacerbate the challenge. And those effects are often driven by a lack of clear information and instruction.

These 7 elements are essential:

1. A broadcast/communication system that gives the school the ability to send a one-way notification to any number of parents – this could be a whole parent body notification as per an emergency lockdown situation, or to a specific group.

There are often emergencies when different messages need to be delivered to different groups of people at particular times during the incident. It’s also critical to have the ability to know who has read the message that you have sent and who has not. Any system chosen must have this feature, whether it be by text and/or email.

2. A critical incident team, which includes an experienced communication person.

This team needs to rehearse its role and responses and undertake drills for staff and students. Dusting off the manuals during the emergency adds to the stress and confusion that can otherwise be avoided.

The initial first few minutes are vital in ensuring the physical and emotional safety of everyone. Every opportunity to appear calm and in control helps lessen fear and regulate heightened emotional states of all involved.

3. A clear set of procedures for:

  • Who communicates;
  • What is communicated – remember you have different audiences;
  • What group is being communicate to;
  • Who authorises the message(s);

In your planning you need to consider that some/all your students and staff have mobile phones and therefore will be communicating with family and friends. Depending on your school cohort, you cannot stop this, so how can you minimise the problems that this might cause and possibly use it to you advantage.

4. A clear, actionable message indicating what you want people to do.

It’s not useful for a parent to receive notification of an emergency without instructions telling them what they can or need to do. This means someone has to create that clear and succinct message, who can work calmly in an emotionally charged situation.

5. An assembly area away from the incident where, parents, families, local residents can gather and be briefed and kept informed of what is occurring, in real time.

Clear and precise information will not remove all fear, but will certainly lessen the anxiety. They can also be considered victims in an incident that need to be assisted.

6. A media plan. When the media becomes involved it is important to be clear who is speaking officially for the school. This is often in coordination with the emergency services on the scene.

7. A review process. Like all emergency plans, a review of how communication worked during the incident is vital. This should include all participant. By continuing to learn about our community and their preference we improve our effectiveness.

An online survey is an easy and effective way to collect this information, sort out meaningful trends and improve.


The media will seek out anyone willing to make a comment. Unfortunately the more emotional the person, the more likely they are to be approached.

We have seen just this week, along with the Principal of a school, distraught and concerned parent(s) comments sought to add ‘human interest’ to the story. Often parents arriving at the scene do not have all the facts and are highly emotional, so they are speaking out of fear, confusion and anxiety.

There are solutions

ParentPaperwork’s Broadcast feature provides the ability to schools to initiate an email and/or SMS text message to any group (or all) of parents at any time to support schools in their emergency management communication strategies.

Our Slips module enables schools to send a notification to parents via email and/or SMS text and require parents to complete an online form acknowledging receipt of the message.

We track delivery of the notifications, and display reporting to schools to indicate which parents have opened their emails or tapped on the texts even if they have not actually returned their online forms.

Photo: diversey/Creative Commons

Helping Australian Schools with Back to School 2016

Welcome back to school for 2016 for our Australian customers of ParentPaperwork!

We hope everything is going well preparing for the return of students at the end of the month. If you are a ParentPaperwork customer we want to offer our assistance to have everything organised for 2016.

Setting up for 2016

  • Common activities in ParentPaperwork at the beginning of the school year are:
  • Move students who left at the end of 2015 to a new Student List;
  • Remove Students from Year Level and Class Student Lists;
  • Re-import your students and parents to ensure existing students are allocated to the correct Student Lists; and new students and parents records are created;
  • Archive Slips from last year so whilst they are easily accessible, they are not displayed by default when you are viewing your Parent Slips list;
  • Disable Staff who have left school; add new Staff Users.

Back to School Forms

Of course ParentPaperwork is perfect for all those back to school blanket permission forms, like photo permissions, policy consents, head lice checks and any other forms you ask parents to complete and return at the start of Term 1.

Once all your students and parents are organised in ParentPaperwork, it’s easy to set up these forms and send them out.

We’d be delighted to help you prepare for Term 1 to ensure everything is ready.

If you’d like assistance with setting up your students/parents, and/or sending out back to school forms, please email [email protected].

New Parent Slip and School Form User Permissions available

We’ve had a bunch of feedback recently from schools piloting our new School Forms module about User permissions. One request has been the ability to split a User’s read only/edit permissions between Parent Slips and School Forms.

For example, you might have a staff member who only needs View Only Permission for Parent Slips, to generate reports and search for parent Responses. But as a member of staff they need to be able to add and edit School Forms.

We’ve now split the permission, so it can be set separately. To edit a user click your User name at the top right, then Settings > Users. There are now two fields:

  1. Parent Slips User Permission
  2. School Forms User Permission

The ‘Only these Student Lists’ option remains in force for Parent Slips, and the ‘Only the User’s Slips/Forms’ remains active both for Parent Slips and School Forms.



New ways to sort and filter Parent Responses in ParentPaperwork

The Responses List displayed when you view a Parent Slip is a terrific real-time view of the forms being completed and returned by parents. It makes it easy to see at a glance how you are tracking, whether you sent out 10 forms or 1,000 forms.

We’ve added new Sort and Filter tools to help make reviewing and monitoring the Responses even easier.



The new Filter drop down gives you five options:

  1. Show All – remove any filter
  2. Have Responded – only those Students for whom forms have been returned
  3. Only Positive Responses – only returned forms with a ‘Yes’ or ‘positive’ response
  4. Not Positive Responses – returned forms which do not have a ‘Yes’ or ‘positive’ response
  5. Have not Responded – only those Students for whom forms have not been returned


The Sort options allow you to change the order the Responses are listed. Click on the same option to change alternative descending/ascending order.

The Filter and Sort features work in tandem. For example, you could Filter to only show Positive Responses, and sort by the date the Response was submitted.


ParentPaperwork now makes RSVPs for school events and functions super simple

We’ve significantly improved the ‘Limit Responses’ feature for Parent Slips. In the past the system simply counted all the responses received, and when the Limit Responses total was reached parents would be prevented from submitting any more forms.

But really this didn’t make sense – the point of the Limit Responses feature is to make accepting RSVPs and other similar responses really simple. What you want to know is how many parents said ‘Yes’.

We’ve implemented a number of changes.

Add/Edit a Parent Slip

When you add/edit a Parent Slip you’ll notice there is a text hint next to the Limit Responses fields, noting ‘Only positive Responses’. This is to make it clear we’re only going to count the ‘Yes’ responses coming back from parents.


View Slip

When you view a Slip for which Limit Responses is set you’ll find the key statistics at the top of the page are tailored to reflect the positive responses. In the example below we have sent out 60 Slips and had 47 responses back, of which 28 are positive. Because Limit Responses is set to 30, that makes the Response Rate 93%.


List Slips

You’ll see a similar statistic on the Slips List page.



When the 31st parent clicks the link in their email to respond to the Slip they will be shown a message explaining that the number of permitted responses has been exceeded.




ParentPaperwork Form Templates can now be organised by category

As more and more schools come on board, and use ParentPaperwork more frequently, we continue to look for ways  to present information in easy to understand ways.

Some schools who have been using ParentPaperwork for a while, and built up a large library of Form Templates, have suggested we should introduce a better way to organise the Templates into groups, so we’ve introduced a new feature to enable you to categorise your Form Templates.

Managing Form Template Categories

The categories are managed from the Settings page – click on your user name at the top right, and select Settings > Form Template Categories.



You can have as many Categories as you like. Click the blue Add New button to create a new Category.

Assign Templates to Categories

When you edit a Form Template you can assign the Template to one or more Categories. Click the Categories field to see a list of available Categories, and click on the one you want to allocate.


The assigned Categories will be displayed, click the small X to de-allocate.


Creating a new Parent Slip

When you create a new Parent Slip, the available Form Templates are displayed grouped by Category. By default all will be displayed, but you can filter to a Category by clicking the relevant Category Name in the left hand list.

Click the blue Go button to create your new Slip from the desired Template.



Display dates from ParentPaperwork in your school’s online calendar

ParentPaperwork provides a calendar feed of the dates you select on Parent Slips, making it easy to display dates in your school’s online calendar, or the individual calendars of staff.

The dates are those you enter on Parent Slips.


The Calendar Feed is configured from the Settings page. Click your user name at the top right, click Settings and then the Calender Feed option.


Set ‘Enable calendar feed’ to ‘Yes’ and click Save.


You will now see a URL for the Feed. This can be used in Google and other online calendars. For example in Google Calendar click the Other Calendars option on the left of the screen and select Add by URL.


Copy and paste the URL from ParentPaperwork and click Add Calendar


The dates will now display in your calendar, if you are using Google you can even then embed a Google Calendar view into your own web site.

Clutch of improvements and enhancements now available in ParentPaperwork

At its heart ParentPaperwork is the sum of suggestions and recommendations from our school customers. Today we’ve released a group of small improvements and enhancements – all of which have come about through feedback from our schools.

File uploading warning

You can upload any number of PDF files to a Slip to make them available to Parents, perfect for information sheets, brochures, camp packing lists. However, if you select a number of files to upload, it’s been possible to click the Save button for the Slip before all the files had completed uploading. And thus lose the files. We’ve added a warning that prevents you from saving a Slip until all file uploads are done.

Disable Parent Contact updates

Many schools value the opportunity to solicit contact updates from parents when they are completing online forms, using the box at the bottom of the Slip. It can be a great way of keeping your contact lists refreshed.


However, some schools have expressed concerns that parents might come to rely on this as a way of communicating a contact update – and unless the school has a process in place to manage these changes, the information might not be actioned.

We have added an option to disable the display of the Parent Contact fields on all Slips you send out. Click on your user name at the top right, then click Settings > Configuration.

The option is called ‘Allow Contacts to update details’.


Display SMS credits

We introduced SMS text notifications earlier this year, and they have proven very popular with schools. Whilst response rates to our email notifications are excellent, SMS messages provide another way of prompting parents to click through and complete their forms. Plus of course SMS messages can be sent via our Broadcasts feature.

What we neglected to do was provide a way for schools to monitor their SMS usage, so we have added this information to the Configuration page.

Click on your user name at the top right, then click Settings > Configuration, your current SMS credits purchased and used are displayed in your subscription information at the top of the page.



Print all Parent Responses for a Slip

ParentPaperwork’s mission in life is to replace paper forms in schools. However, we are conscious that many schools must operate within legacy policies, and that a move to being fully online might need to be introduced incrementally.

We have been asked a number of times recently if it is possible to print all the Responses submitted by Parents. Up until now you have only been able to print one at a time, by clicking to view the individual Response and then clicking the Print button.

We have added a new button at the top of the Slip Responses called ‘Print Slips’. This will open a new window, with all of the information submitted by Parents, one Slip at a time. It does not display the School fields, just those completed by parents. Whilst the on-screen display is continuous, when you print to paper or PDF it should break each Slip onto a new page.


Continuous scrolling on Student Lists

The lists of Slips, Students and Parents all automatically scroll through pages as you move down the page, saving you to have to deliberately click to the next page. We’ve added this to the Student Lists page as well – as more schools use ParentPaperwork more intensively we’ve noticed they are creating more and more Student Lists.

Prevent use of a Form Template with no fields allocated

There’s been a piece of weirdness floating around for ages – you click to add a new Slip and select a Form Template, but everything stops. Turns out it’s because whilst you might have created the Form Template, you have not used the Form Design page to add any fields. Now if a Form Template does not have any fields allocated it will not be displayed on the Select Template list, plus there’s a red triangle warning on the Form Templates page.


Don’t forget, we love hearing your feedback and ideas, don’t hesitate to contact the ParentPaperwork team!



Tweaks to the Form Template Builder in ParentPaperwork

We’ve added a couple of new features to the Form Template Builder in ParentPaperwork this week.

Editing Section Titles

Each Form Templates has usually two sections, in the case of Parent Slips the first section contains the fields filled out by the School; and the second is for the fields filled out by the Parent.

Until now these section titles have been set by default, but now users can update them.

Click the pencil icon at the right hand end of the section title, and a window will open for you to change the title.


These titles display when staff are completing forms within ParentPaperwork, so it’s a help when they are reflective of the type of the information being captured on the particular template.

Read Only Labels in the School fields section

It has long been possible to create read only text blocks in the Parent fields section at the bottom of a Form Template, but we now have extended that to the School fields section – in fact we’re not quite sure why this wasn’t always possible 🙂

Start by dragging a new text field into the section, then click the pencil icon to edit. The pop up window includes a check box called ‘Read Only Label’.


Tick the box, the default value field will be hidden, and the Field Required checkbox will be disabled (as it’s not applicable). Enter your text into the Field Name box and click the Update Field button.

In the design view you will see the new Label displayed.


When you create a new Slip or Form from the template the text will be displayed.


Each label can hold up to 500 characters, if you need to show larger amounts of text, just use multiple text fields on the Template.




30% of parents complete and submit their ParentPaperwork forms within 4 hours

We’ve been delving into the ParentPaperwork database, looking at how quickly parents complete and submit the online forms sent to them by school – and some of the numbers are taking our breath away.

The chart at the top represents data from the 5,000 forms most recently completed by parents. What it shows is that 10% are completed within the first hour of the email notifications being sent, with 30% submitted inside the first 4 hours.

This might also explain the statistics we see about the devices parents are using to submit their forms. In general we see the following breakdown:

  • 60% – Desktop web browser
  • 30% – Mobile phone
  • 10% – Tablet

So around 40% of parents are using some kind of mobile, or non-desktop/laptop device to submit their online forms. Which suggests to us parents are often submitting their forms whilst out and about, sitting in meetings, on the train and so forth.

Contrast all this with paper forms. At best a teacher handing out paper forms to students in class can expect them back no sooner than the next day, and often it’s considerably longer than that.

ParentPaperwork’s online forms mean more than 55% of forms returned within 24 hours – without the teacher or school administrator having to lift a finger.