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?

How risky are paper forms in schools? Seven significant points of failure with paper-based forms sent home to parents

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Poorly communicated student information threatens school excursions

Liability continues to be an ever increasing front of mind issue for schools around the world. In countries where parents particularly tend towards the litigious, such as the United States, some schools are even reducing the frequency of off campus excursions, opting instead for alternative experiences.

School administrators also cite cost as a concern, for transport and chaperones, and suggest the money can be better spent on more time in class.

In Israel this week this week high school students are skipping classes in protest over sanctions by teachers that have led to the cancellation of all field trips. The teachers want legal immunity  from lawsuits and criminal charges in the event of a student being injured on a trip.

However, others in the education field are fighting back, saying field trips provide valuable opportunities for students, with improved learning outcomes. For example a study by Jay Greene, a professor at the University of Arkansas  found that students who attended a live theatre performance scored significantly higher on a vocabulary test incorporating language from those plays, in comparison to a cohort of their peers who only read the play or watched a video.

Taking students off campus does of course carry a risk, hence many schools are now required to compile risk assessment plans and communicate fulsomely with parents to ensure the parents are fully informed about the nature and content of a proposed activity, and that consent has been properly secured from the parents.

The paper forms sent home to parents have consequently become even more prevalent and detailed – as any parent can attest, they are subject to a constant barrage of what at times seem repetitive requests from teachers to read, complete and return forms for all manner of activities. Yet this process is intrinsically fraught, for example:

  1. The parent might not complete the form correctly, they might omit or miss key information;
  2. The teacher might find it difficult to transcribe the parent’s handwriting, leading to mistakes or incorrect data being recorded.

As has been seen sadly on occasion, if vital information is not communicated, students can be placed at risk, especially with regard to health information such as allergies. As every parent can tell you allergies in kids are on the rise – and that’s backed by research.

According to Allergy UK the latest surveys show that the rates of all allergies are increasing throughout the world, affecting up to 30-35% of people at some stage of their lives. What’s even more alarming is that other Allergy UK studies are showing a significant increase in the incidence of food allergies amongst children. Currently in the UK, it is estimated that up to 50% of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition.

Many schools now have blanket bans on food products such as eggs, dairy and nuts even if only a small percentage of the student body has allergies to avoid, as much as possible, any risk. Unsure of what the best solution is to deal with this issue some schools seem to be going really overboard in their strategies, according to John Collard, clinical director of Allergy UK.

“Food allergies can be deadly, and every death is clearly a tragedy so we need to do what we can to prevent them. But you have to balance that against the impact on the quality of life of everyone else.”

“I heard a story in the UK about a school making children wear gowns over their clothing during meal times so there would be no contamination fear from milk. There is a tendency to go over the top.”

Clearly it is important that the school elicits, and clearly understands, information provided by parents, whether for allergies, or other aspects of a child’s personal information whilst preparing for any activity involving students. And this is where giving consideration to an online communication tool should be high on the agenda for school leaders.

A digital online forms system can address the flaws in paper based systems:

  1. Online forms can be designed to ensure that parents correctly complete the required information, for example using elements such as drop down lists with a closed set of options ensures only legitimate options are selected;
  2. With no handwriting to decipher the data will be legible and usable, and because it’s in digital form archiving and searching is simple.

These are two of the primary reasons why we created ParentPaperwork – and not just for schools, but for the parents as well. Because it’s in everyone’s interests that information about our kids is communicated reliably and securely.

As a bonus, the time and cost for managing the process can be drastically reduced, further helping schools in the battle against the workload challenge facing teachers and school administrators.