Parents SMS Student Absences

Absences

SMS is now being used by schools to capture student absences.  This cuts down the morning phone time  used by office staff and allows them to deal with “face time” with parents, teachers and students.

Schools are busy places, especially between 8.30 am and9.30 am in the morning .. and especially for office staff.  This is when students and teachers are arriving, parents are coming and going and the phones are ringing.

There are several specialized companies on the market which enable virtual mobile phone numbers.  If you are familiar with TV shows like Australian Idol or Big Brother you will be aware that voting is often done via SMS where people sitting at home watching TV can vote.  The phone numbers provided are virtual phone numbers.  This means that the numbers are set up for the sole purpose of incoming messages only.  This sort of infrastructure is EXPENSIVE.  Price alone rules out most schools for using something like this.

How the Safe Newsletters SMS Absence system works.

To reduce costs for schools, Safe Newsletters uses a work around yet still implements a fully functional SMS system.

Here’s what you will need.

  • SIM Only plan from a telecommunication company such as Optus or Telstra.  Amayasim offer very cheap SIM only plans.
  • Mobile phone is NOT necessary.
  • Safe Newsletters SMS enabled PRO account.  Charges apply to each SMS a parent sends you.
  • An email account

Telecommunication companies these days offer a SIM only plan.  In other words you can buy a SIM card without the phone.  SIM only plans come in different flavours but essentially you purchase the SIM card and NOT a phone.

You DO NOT need an expensive SIM only plan.  Because you will be using it for incoming SMS messages ONLY… an expensive plan is NOT necessary.  In fact a $10 per month plan will suffice.

Essentially there are 2 types of SIM only plans.

  • Post paid and
  • Pre paid.

A post paid plan is a contracted plan over 12 or 24 months at a fixed price plus call costs once the included cap is reached.  If there are no outgoing calls then the total cost of the SIM card would be $120 per year on a $10 per month plan.  This could be automatically paid using the school corporate credit card.

A prepaid plan is where you buy credit when you need it.  Prepaid phone numbers expire if you don’t apply credit within 3 months.  Because the phone number will only be used for incoming SMS… there should NOT be any out going call expenses right?  Therefore, in theory if you applied credit to the SIM every 3 months the SIM would only cost $40 per year.  But in reality, there needs to be at least one chargeable call within 3 months so that the phone company won’t cancle your SIM card.  If the number does ultimately expires .. there is a good chance you will need a new number.  This could be very embarrassing.  Be diligent using prepaid SIM only plans

What Next?

Activate the SIM card.  Often this can be done online.

Use the SMS mobile phone number that comes with the SIM card and distribute this number to your parent group.  Encourage your parent group to use the mobile number your provide them to SMS student absences.

The SMS messages from parents will be redirected as EMAIL by Safe Newsletters to your email account.  This way the phone doesn’t have to be on… BUT the SMS will be nicely collated into your email account to action when you are ready…

Shop Around

Have a look around and get some advice from your local mobile phone dealer and ask about SIM only plans.  Amaysim seem to be the cheapest and most flexible with their SIM only plans.

Summary

If school office staff need to reduce phone time and increase face time then a student SMS absence solution might be worth considering.

Shop around for a good SIM only SMS phone plan.

Call Safe Newsletters and find out if a SMS solution is cost effective and good fit for your school.

Using the New SMS Features

PLEASE NOTE: SMS must be enabled on your Safe Newsletters account.  Enabling SMS is optional.  Please notify us if you need SMS enabled.  Charges apply per SMS.

In this article:

  1. Notify all parents by SMS that your newsletter has been published and distributed by email
  2. Send a custom SMS message to all parents
  3. Send a custom SMS to a small group of parents

Notify all parents via SMS of your Newsletter publication

Once SMS is enabled on your account, parents also have the option to receive an SMS from the school.  Parents can add their mobile phone number and then select the SMS option.

Newsletters are sent in the usual way, except this time the parent will also receive a SMS notification as well.  This is all silently processed and sent in the background and there are no further steps required when uploading and sending your school newsletter.

SMS Broadcast to ALL Parents

SMS provides an extra layer of convenience, connectedness and provides parents with multiple modes of communication.

The new SMS broadcast feature will send and SMS to ALL parents, students and teachers who have subscribed to your newsletter.

Send SMS

Remember

A standard SMS is 160 characters which is billed at the cost of one SMS.  More than 160 characters means that the message will be billed as two messages.

SMS to small Groups of Parents

This is the real power of the Safe Newsletters SMS system… the ability to send SMS to small groups of parents.

Send SMS2

This method overcomes 2 problems.

  1. Data duplicity
  2. Workload and errors

In explaining this, I’m often asked questions like:

1. Can I add all students and phone numbers to the Safe Newsletters system to make it easier?

My answer?  You DO NOT want to do that because then 2 systems will need maintenance.  Your school system and then hypothetically the Safe Newsletters system.  (We could easily install a facility like this… but we deliberately avoided this)  In the end it won’t be easier… because 2 systems will be more work.  Data duplicity will be created and you will have data overload.  Avoid this at all costs.  Its always best to have one source of truth ie your school management system.

2. How do I bulk add phone numbers?

My answer?  For sending to small groups of parents, use your school system and export parent mobile phone numbers.  I call this disposable data or single use data.  Simply copy and paste them into the box for mobile phone numbers (see image above).  This will reduce workload and reduce the risk of data errors in duplicate data sets.

How to export phone numbers from your School Management System

EVERY school management system has export functions.  This is where data is exported into a spreadsheet for you to use.  You may not have done this before and it may seem complex but its not.  It doesn’t take long to learn how to do it… and when you have done it once… its actually very easy.  You will then wonder why you hadn’t learnt this sooner because there are many instances in a school where disposable data is very very handy.

Summary

  1. Ask to have SMS enabled.  Schools pay per each SMS sent.
  2. Ask parents to add their mobile phone number to Safe Newsletters
  3. SMS auto sent when newsletters are uploaded and sent.
  4. Target smaller groups of parents by using disposable data.

Ask your questions in the comment box below.

How to Bulk Send SMS Reminders to Parents

SMS Newsletters to ParentsBefore we start… we are offering a free professional version subscription to Safe Newsletters.  Offer expires December 30 2012.  See detail below.

There are lots of ways to send SMS alerts to parents.

The most rudimentary way would be to use a mobile phone, type the SMS, enter the parent phone number and then send.  Of course this would take a while if you had lots to send.  One could speed it up a little if all parents were grouped into a distribution list.

A simple Google search for free SMS will yield a ton of websites offering free SMS.  Often there will be a very small daily limit and often it will have a tag line advertisement at the end of the SMS.

Skype is another way to SMS.  Simply buy some Skype credit and you can send SMS from your computer.  However, Skype does not offer a bulk send feature.

Once again this is time consuming.

Whilst research shows that 95% of all SMS are opened in the fist 5 minutes which proves that messages actually are received and read… it’s just another thing schools have to do in an already crowded technology environment.

The trick is to silently automate SMS so that it becomes a natural part of the school work flow.

SMS is a key part in school communication these days.

There are many useful ways in which SMS can be used in schools.

  • Newsletters alerts
  • Camp, excursion, event payment reminders
  • Student absence alerts
  • Emergency alerts
  • School fee reminders
  • First day of school reminders
  • … and lots more

The most obvious way to automate SMS is to integrate it into your school management software.  A fully featured integration would allow schools to send SMS and drill down the broadcast to only those parents whom the message is relevant.  If the message goes to all parents but the message really only affects a handful of parents, the power of the message becomes diluted.  Over time your SMS becomes a hindrance rather than a powerful message and thus becomes a waste of time and money.

ALL school management systems (and I mean all systems) have the ability to export custom data to a spreadsheet or text file.  For instance.  Lets say you only wanted a list of all parents who had not yet paid for the year 5 camp.  Your school management system would look up those parents.  During the lookup you might have the system add the parent mobile phone number too.

I call this disposable data.  Its data that is used for a purpose and then deleted.

If you don’t have a fully integrated SMS system, this disposable data becomes extremely useful because it forms a “data bridge” to a secondary application that has the capability to send the SMS to targeted parents.

Secondary applications are nothing new.  I consider MS Outlook a secondary application because it’s not my main data store.  I export email addresses from my main data store and then use MS Outlook as the tool to send the email I have exported.

Safe Newsletters is one of these secondary applications that can be used to send SMS using bridging data.  Disposable data exported from your school management systems can be copy and pasted (yes as simple as that) into the Safe Newsletters SMS module to send highly targeted messages to parents.

Safe Newsletters isn’t just a newsletter application… it’s a very powerful communication platform capable of much more than newsletters, surveys and permission forms.

BONUS

Safe Newsletters are offering one FREE 12 month professional version subscription to a school in each state and territory of Australia.

Tell us why you would use SMS and how it would benefit your school.  Use the comment box below.  Make sure you use your school email address and add your school website in the fields when prompted.  We will contact you if your school is chosen.

Make sure you Follow the Blog via email by adding your email address to the form on the right….

Thats it.  Good luck.

About the Author

Damon Taylor is Director of  Safe Newsletters and has a long history of making data more useful for schools.

SMS Newsletters to Parent Mobile Phones

Its widely acknowledged that SMS open rates are much higher than email.  In fact some research shows that 95% of SMS are opened in the first 5 minutes.

SMS=Short Messaging Service

It makes sense that we have added an SMS feature to our school newsletter distribution service.

Adding this functionality required some research.  We needed a third party SMS gateway provider to send the SMS on our behalf.

There was a lot more to SMS than we anticipated.

There are many SMS gateways.  Some are located in Australia and others in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, UK, USA and more.

These cheaper gateways would could not guarantee delivery.  Some were 90% efficient.  Some were higher but they were not 100%.

Some of the cheaper gateways would also delay the distribution of SMS.  In other words some SMS might not be delivered for several hours after it was sent.

The less expensive gateways typically were outside Australia and would send SMS for less than 10 cents per message.  The cheapest we found was 6 cents… but we needed better reliability.

The factors which were most important to us was reliability and timing.  We needed a service that could grantee the highest delivery rate and would be delivered as soon as the SMS was sent.

This meant that the price per SMS was going to be higher and the gateway would need to be in Australia and provided by Telstra.

We also needed something that would integrate seamlessly into our current systems that would cater for our volume and provide the flexibility we needed.

We are happy to announce that we have sourced an Australian gateway that fit all our criteria and gave us a very good price.

We are now geared to send school newsletters via email .. and SMS.

The SMS is integrated into our professional suite of features and schools will be billed according to their SMS distribution.  Currently our pricing is 17 cents per SMS message.

We offer superior flexibility and a range of features.

For more information about what we offer have a look at our website http://safenewsletters.com