What is a tree worth to your school community?

Your school, your values

What a school places value on can say a lot of about the culture and community of that school. How much you value trees and the environment is about more than being a tree hugger or hippie.

It’s the time of year, in Australia and New Zealand, when everything in school just seems to get busier and busier. Exams are done and dusted. Transition to the next year level will be happening soon. Teachers and students are gearing up for end-of-year performances. And administrators are working hard to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the school year.

In the US, UK, Canada and the other countries where schools use ParentPaperwork the school year isn’t ending but the calendar year is. Students and teachers attention is moving towards Christmas and/or the holidays and spending time with family and friends.

For those in the southern climes, the focus in December is around back to school and being ready administratively for the new school year.

In the midst of all this rush and bustle, it’s good to take a step back and ask yourself what the values driving your school will be in 2017?

So many schools we reach out to still use antiquated processes, particularly when dealing with governance and compliance matters that could all be dealt with in a much more organised, efficient and effective way by using an online platform like ParentPaperwork.

Costs of the old way can be hidden from view

And continuing to do things the old way has hidden costs. Earlier this year we took a look at these hidden costs and created our cost calculator. Want to know how much you could be saving in financial, environmental and labour costs by using ParentPaperwork to handle all your forms? Just plug your student numbers in to our calculator  and take a look.

Something that rides a trend wave of interest and then at times disappears from view, is the effect schools have on the environment. Just what impact does your school have on the environment? Could things be done differently or better? What are some easy ways to reduce environmental burden in school settings? What is the low hanging fruit you could pick in terms of making your school fully sustainable?

ParentPaperwork was created out of a philosophy that schools are important and special places in our communities and that how we run them can have a material beneficial impact to the environment and sustainability.

Since the beginning of the year ParentPaperwork has handled over 1.2 million forms on behalf of our schools customers. Consider that many of these are multi-page if sent by paper. We estimate that in 2016 schools using ParentPaperwork have saved the planet circa 2.5 million pieces of paper.

In a school with 1000 students, using ParentPaperwork as your forms solution will be a huge step towards taking your school paperless. And it will also mean that 7 trees didn’t get cut down this year. If you use ParentPaperwork for 5 years, that’s 35 trees, a copse or small forest.

If you’re not swayed by the cost savings argument yet, maybe you’ll think about your values and how much a tree, copse or forest matters to your school community?

Calculate how much ParentPaperwork can save your school

Paper forms are a major resource and labour expense in schools, and recently we embarked on a quest to create some rough estimates of just how much the cost would be – both cash and to the environment.

If we look across all ParentPaperwork’s customers in 7 countries, on average schools are sending home 30 forms per student per year- so in a school of 1,000 students that’s 30,000 paper forms being managed between school and parents annually, let alone all the paper forms used internally by staff.

In dollar terms the forms sent home to parents for 1,000 students are probably costing you north of $16,000 a year. ParentPaperwork is very significantly cheaper than that.

ParentPaperwork will also obvious substantially reduce paper usage, resulting in strong environmental outcomes.

We’ve created a handy online calculator allowing you to see just how much you could save by using ParentPaperwork’s online forms platform to improve your school’s management processes.

Check out the new calculator!

What is the cost of paper forms in schools?

Paper has served an important role in education for hundreds of years. It’s been an enabler and a multiplier. It’s been a bedrock for schools to inform and improving student outcomes – their core mission.

But paper has been a victim of its own success as an instrument of information gathering.

As it has piled up with our need to communicate, collect, analyse and store more and more data, school workloads have exponentially increased.

Our data suggests that a single child will receive at least 30 forms per year and staff complete at least 20 forms.

So what does it really cost to send home paper forms or use an ill-fitting technology solution?

When schools think of paper costs they usually only consider the costs that they can easily quantify. The truth is that’s only the beginning. These numbers mask the real problem – that educators are taking on the role of full-time administrators.

The human cost

We don’t like to admit it, but every extra piece of paper means more time away from students.

In a recent survey of our school partners, we collected a list of the most used paper forms. These are the ones that involved staff in preparing , distributing, reminding, following up, collecting, collating and in some cases entering, information. Excursion forms, sporting forms, medical forms, record updates, training forms, fundraising forms, parent meetings and more. They were plentiful and often duplicative.

In an analysis of the UK Government’s recent Workload challenge survey, John Roberts revealed that of 43 000 teachers who replied, over 56% reported the single most unnecessary and unproductive data related task was “recording, inputting and monitoring of data”.

Read more: Can automation save teaching?

teacher calling on student in class

Teaching staff in all schools are involved in the paper forms process in one form or another.

  • Preparing the form
  • Preparing the information for the form
  • Distributing the form
  • Managing the follow up and reminder process to have the forms returned
  • Collecting the form
  • Ensuring that the form is fully/correctly completed
  • Collating the information
  • Storing of the original forms

Current paper practices or administration systems that have permission form capabilities are so convoluted staff understandably are turned off them. This adds to stress and workload fatigue.

Roberts acknowledges: “School Management Information Systems (MIS) have glacially evolved since their early beginnings,” to become the source of crippling frustration and burnout.

“Their development focus on breadth has meant that a focus on the needs of the actual user has been left behind.”

Schools want to be seen working on the challenge of staff workload. But technology innovations tend to sit classroom side (where they can attract new students, funding and attention) while applying technology that reduces behind the scenes workload is lower down the agenda.

It’s understandable, given the competitive education market. But it leaves educators, administrators, parents and ultimately, students themselves, worse off.

The financial cost

Paper, printers, photocopying, scanning, labor… and in some cases, faxing!

The pipeline adds up quickly when we count the cost of paper forms. Based on conservative assumptions, modelling suggests that adding basic costs, including labor and storage, tallies up to $16.70 per student.

Digitising and automating these processes could save thousands. Here’s another conservative estimate. A school of 500 students could save up to $8000 a year through smart digitisation. For 2000 that number jumps to $30,000.

The environmental cost

tree drawn on paper

The human cost adds up quickly, in taxing time, energy and patience of educators (and parents). So does the hit to the bottom line.

Consider the impact on the environment.

While some schools are turning to recycled products or techniques to help reduce consumption, the impact on their eco-footprint is usually minimal.

And the heat is on, in the form of externally mandated ‘green’ goals in different educational jurisdictions around the world (and the reporting on those goals… on paper?)

The below figures show the cumulative impact of a school sending an average of 30 forms a year to a single student, at an average of two pages per form.


school paper forms eco footprint

The tide is turning

A Principal recently told me: “I now only buy products and solutions that my staff will use. I am trying to build a culture of innovation and I need the staff to believe that what I promise the technology can deliver”.

While the pressures on the sector are vast and confronting, there’s never been a better time to innovate and take the leap. To survive, schools must be smart about scaling solutions, and letting technology shoulder critical, but crunching tasks that have become fundamentally obstructive within teaching environments.

It’s never just a piece of paper.

Technology can enable wellness in schools


Schools have long been a place for kids to get physical.

Teachers and administrators help them get there, through coordinated sports activities, health classes, and a watchful eye on playground antics. Health professionals also play a role, offering medical expertise and intervention if needed.

But the relationship between physicality and schools isn’t always smooth sailing.

Educators want kids to be healthy, but face enormous pressure to deploy volumes of curriculum amidst competing distractions. Time spent ‘running around’ may feel like time lost. Meanwhile, time spent managing administrative commitments for those physical activities creates further distance between staff, students and desired outcomes.

The rising tide of paperwork drowning schools is like a tension headache for educators, passed onto staff, families and students. The stressors administrative burdens place on schools ripple outwards and impact everyone. Technology has often been a culprit – tools with limited or negligible pedagogical context, that end up costing time and increasing strain.

While exploring the benefits of mindfulness in schools, UK Professor Katherine Weare found that “the perception and reality of stress in teaching gives rise to poor job performance, difficulties in recruitment, and to high and expensive rates of attrition in trainee and practising teachers.” (Weare, 2014)


Can automation save us?

The good news is that programs and initiatives teaching and promoting wellbeing are proliferating across sectors, including education.

At the heart of this drive is the recognition that we need to build a culture of sustainability that encompasses both our people and our environment. We’re becoming more aware of how student wellbeing is connected with staff wellbeing – how energy, creativity and focus need reconstituting. Saving paper and saving ourselves are part of the same journey.

Administrators and teachers in leadership positions can find it particularly challenging to achieve the space for movement or mindfulness in their days. Parent Paperwork users have reported that an unexpected benefit of automating their administrative workload has been time to reinvest in wellbeing activities.

When teachers and staff are more healthy, relaxed and engaged, students respond in kind. We have all worked with someone tired, anxious and distracted. We’ve been that person ourselves. Our hardworking schools can easily tip into a kind of stasis – an endless loop of ticking boxes in a weary haze. This oppresses innovation and degrades the wellness of educational practitioners.

  • Is wellness expressed in your school values and goals?
  • Does your school have a wellness program distinct from any physical education or exercise program?
  • If you have a wellness program, is it focused on students or inclusive of all staff?
  • Which tools or processes in your working life ‘get in the way’ of wellbeing by adding stress or complexity?
  • Do you feel more or less relaxed when you use certain technologies?

Systems in schools, whether human or technological, have the power and responsibility to build healthy habits. Tools like Parent Paperwork aren’t just about operational efficiencies. They mean fewer hours tethered to the computer and more time talking and walking with students and families. Time and paper saved means energy applied more meaningfully and productively.