Sal McKeown shows how apps and software created with schools are helping students go places
It's Monday morning. After a last-minute panic looking for a reading record and some shoes, I am driving children to school through heavy traffic and roadworks and it's not even my home town. Just as the school gates come into sight, the girls tell me that they both need to pay for school trips and that their mum has the permission slips.
Fortunately, schools have got used to parents who turn up at the last minute with no paperwork, no change and no pen, but these hectic mornings of queuing to sort out problems could soon be a thing of the past. A new generation of apps and software lets parents pay from their bank accounts directly into the relevant school fund.
'Toolkit' powers overseas sports trips for schools
Travelopia has launched Toolkit, a personal online trip portal that takes the sting out of school trips for teachers and parents alike. Schools don't need to prepare and mail letters. They can upload photos, videos and itineraries.
Parents register their interest via a simple online form, upload passport details and information about dietary requirements. Best of all, they can track their payments – no more wondering if their children handed over the cash or cheques. And the finance staff can email payment reminders to the more forgetful parents while a two-stage verification process makes sure that all the data is safely stored. Pate's Grammar School (see photo above) was one of the first to use the portal. It is an outstanding grammar school in Cheltenham with academy status. As well as promoting academic achievement, they have some stunning extra-curricular activities on offer.
In alternate years, the school runs an international rugby tour to the southern hemisphere for seniors and one to Ireland for juniors. They are organised through Edwin Doran Sports Tours. Alex Derbyshire, maths teacher and rugby tour manager, believes that he and the school administrator were spending approximately one full working month, spread over an 18-month period, completing the arrangements.
"'Much as I loved planning such events," he said, "balancing it with my demanding role as a teacher of mathematics, it eventually took its toll." So he was delighted to be involved in Travelopia's trial.
"I can take a quote from Edwin Doran Sports Tours or its sister companies and make it into the school’s very own interactive tour website, accessible to staff and parents at the click of the button from any device," he added. Organising the complexities of a 14-night rugby tour for 40 boys in Gauteng and Western Cape is a stressful and time-consuming job but the school is finding that the Toolkit is an invaluable aid. "I used to spend time updating data, chasing students, tracking payments and updating parents. Now the Toolkit is reducing our workload by an estimated 75 per cent."
Bangor school writes its own app – 'eeZeeTrip'
eeZeeTrip was created by Semantise Limited, an IT company that grew out of the School of Education at the University of Bangor. They were approached by Llew Davis (pictured right), headteacher at Ysgol Cae Top who wanted to cut back on the number of letters going home and at the same time improve parental involvement.
Dr Oggy East, director of Semantise, was delighted to work with the school and could see the potential of the app for schools across the UK. It's free for parents and works on iOS and Android devices. The results for Ysgol Cae Top have been impressive. Llew Davies said: "We've saved nearly 4,000 pieces of paper and printing in just two months. "
Parents like it because they can pay direct from a smartphone and pupils are impressed too. In fact, Year 5 at Cae Top came up with the name and logo, which Semantise has incorporated into the app
Having started as an app dedicated to school trips where parents could log medical details, emergency phone numbers and all the usual permissions, the company is now expanding into after-school clubs and messaging.
The maths teacher who created 'EVOLVEvisits'
EVOLVEvisits prides itself on being robust. It all started 13 years ago when managing director Daniel Baker was an IT and maths teacher. He was frustrated that every time he wanted to take students out he had to deal with a mound of paperwork and, in those days, it included faxes as well as emails. He worked with Clive Atkins, an outdoor education adviser, to create a paperless system which would work for his school.
The final product is a system where documents can be uploaded and everything is date and time-stamped so it leaves a robust audit trail. It lets the school gather the data to identify visits and off-site activities for pupil premium and disadvantaged learners, or to produce a report showing all visits that an individual pupil has taken part in during his or her time at the school.
Richard Thomas, head of operations and ethos at Bay House School and Sixth Form in Gosport, Hampshire, is a fan. He appreciates the way that EVOLVEvisits works with the MIS system so schools can access emergency contact, medical details and dietary requirements and transfer them into the trip records. "One of the things that I like most about EVOLVE," he said, "is that it forces users to be organised as the process is very logical and does not allow you to move on until the relevant information is provided."
Last week I managed to fill out the forms and find the cash for a Year 4 trip to see The Jungle Book and a Year 5 trip to Chatsworth, but it was a close-run thing. These days banks are shutting branches on an almost weekly basis, so it seems incongruous that school staff should be carrying cash, queueing up and depositing school funds which often contain a large volume of coinage. There has be a better way and these three services are showing how it can be done.
Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist specialising in education, disability and technology