Parental access has been there from the early days of VSware, but uptake of its use has been uneven across our schools. This is partially down to the old interface that frankly wasn’t as user friendly as it is now. Earlier this year, we worked closely with schools to make major changes in this area. We have now completely re-designed the way that parents engage with VSware.
It is now a central information and communication hub that gives constant access to key information like exam results, attendance, behaviour or fees. Rather than having to wait for a parent teacher meeting or a report to come in the post, parents can now look up this information at any time. From a parent’s point of view, giving them these tools helps them get a holistic view of how their child is doing, and in turn leads to positive outcomes for students.
The desktop application has been hugely improved with new visual and user design, and we have introduced a mobile app on iOS and Android meaning more accessibility than ever before. There is also our new Communications Package which lets users message each other and allows parents to submit absence requests from home. There have been a lot of changes and feedback so far has been really positive so we’ve been delighted to see that the app has been a great help to schools during a really difficult year.
With that said, these features can only be used to their full advantage when the parents themselves buy into the idea of using them. Conversations we’ve had with schools have revealed that parent engagement requires a little effort and a clear plan – so, we’ve put together some advice based on feedback from schools who have been having the most success in this area. Each school will of course have their own unique set of circumstances but there should be something in here to help everyone.
1. Before you do anything, decide what you want parents to have access to
As a school, you’re in full control of what information parents can see. If you’re in the middle of tidying up past attendance records, you can switch this item off so parents can’t see it. If you’re making edits to a new timetable and aren’t ready for them to view it, this can be turned off too. Access is fully customisable via Users and Groups under the ‘Contacts’ dropdown.
- Ease parents into the idea of ‘going online’
Hold an introductory session online where parents can ask questions about VSware before being given access and you can even log into a demo account and show them what the screens look like. These sessions build confidence in the software and parents are usually eager to check it out for themselves afterwards. We have lots of helpful information that can be sent to parents linked at the end of this article.
You can request temporary access to a demo parent account. This can be really useful to demonstrate at a virtual meeting with parents because the data is not that of a real student. This access is just for school staff and cannot be passed onto parents. To get one of these demo accounts, simply email the following to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- School name:
- Roll no:
- Your name:
- Job Title:
- Mobile number: (so you can set your password)
At the end of this period which is 10 working days, we will automatically delete your demo account and mobile number so you don’t need to worry about your data being retained in the demo site.
- Turn on access year group by year group
If you have a particularly big school or if the parents are completely new to VSware, staggering the access by year group over a number of weeks or months can be helpful. In the past, it was a way of reducing queries from parents into the school office regarding passwords and navigation, however our new intuitive design means that once they get logged in, it’s unlikely that they will come to you with questions. If they ever forget their password, they can reset it themselves, which means no more calls to the office looking for it. Even still, school offices are busy places so breaking up the task can be a good approach.
- Once parents are logged in, don’t overwhelm them
Some schools opt to stagger the roll out of certain features. For example you might start out with just the timetable and term reports. More and more people are eager to go paperless nowadays, so this is a good one to start with. Once they’re used to that, you can introduce the behaviour feature, then attendance, VS-Mail, fees and so on. Other schools have opted to open everything at once, and this works well for some too.
One of our schools recently signed up for the Communications package, but did not inform the parents of the feature. They noticed that many parents found the Submit Absence feature by themselves and started submitting absence requests/sick notes straight away. It demonstrates just how easily people take to the new screens.
Another school we spoke to gave parents access to term reports and sent out an SMS explaining how to access the latest results, but no instructions on anything else. They then realised that parents had been noticing the unexplained absences on the dashboard and attendance screen and had been taking it upon themselves tidy them up, resulting in more accurate attendance data for the school, which the school was delighted about.
- Move away from old methods of communication
Once you are happy that parents are used to the new app, let them know that you will be making it the main method of communication. For example, when the next term reports go out, you could send the report by post as usual while letting parents know that they have the option to check them online as well. Then when the next one rolls around, inform them that reports will no longer be sent out by post. One school recently decided to go ‘cold turkey’ with SMS messages and made VS-Mail the main method of communication and this has also worked well for them.
As you can see, there are probably as many ways to approach this as there are schools, but once you have a plan in place you’ll find that giving parents this access has endless benefits. Below, we’ve outlined some of the practical steps involved in getting parents set up online.
Practical guide to setting up parental accounts
1. Prepare the data and get parent accounts set up.
First, you will have to ensure that parents have their own individual VSware accounts and provide them with the initial details they need to get logged in.
If you are planning on getting parents online, make sure to check their mobile numbers are entered correctly first. Here are some guides to help you with this:
2. Logging in
Once your parent accounts are created, you will need to send parents their Username, the exact school name and some guides on how to use the system.
On the login screen, parents should not type the local name or nickname for the school. When searching for the school, parents should either type –
– The VSware URL i.e. myschool
– The ‘official’ school name: My School
The ‘official’ school name is the name you entered in PPOD. This is displayed under Settings > School.
3. SMS Template for introducing parents to VSware
The most efficient way to get parents up and running is to send an SMS to all parents. You can edit the following template to suit your own needs, and copy and paste it into your SMS field. Remember that the variables #FNAME and #USERNAME will autofill depending on the recipient so you can send this message just once to all parents. Another point to note is that if you send this via SMS, most people will be able to click the link on their smartphones so it will bring them straight to the guides.
Hi #FNAME. The new VSware Parent App is now available for you to use on Android and iOS. Please click on support.vsware.ie/parent-app-overview where you can learn how to download & use the app.
Once your app is downloaded, type *insert school name* into the ‘School Name‘ field.
Here is a reminder of your username: #USERNAME
You can reset your own password if you don’t have one or have forgotten it.
Remember, you can also access your VSware account on your desktop or laptop by *Insert school url*
4. Teaching parents how to use the app
We have created an all in one guide for parents to use: support.vsware.ie/parent-app-overview (Copy and paste this link into your browser URL if it is not working for you). This article outlines every element of the guide from the parent’s perspective, from the basics of downloading and logging in to paying fees to reading reports and much more so there is no need to send them anything other than this.
Parents can also easily find these guides themselves via vsware.ie > ‘Online guides’ > ‘Guides for Parents’. This is the first folder on our online support site to make it easy for parents to find. You might want to direct them this way so they can navigate themselves again in future.
Tip: Here is a shortened version of the link to the ‘support.vsware.ie/parent-app-overview’ guide for parents if you need to reduce the character count on your SMS! bit.ly/34fBGm2