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Schools jump online taking parents with them

Low-tech days in the old school yard are going, going gone as Australian schools collectively embrace online systems automating everything from canteen orders to selling seats at the end of year concert.

Fast heading the way of the dodo is the traditional method of organising the end-of-term parent teacher interview.

Abbotsleigh students connect with the Cleveland Institute of Music via video conference.
Abbotsleigh students connect with the Cleveland Institute of Music via video conference. Photo: Supplied

A growing number of schools have replaced the slip of paper sent home for parents to tick their preferred times with booking systems that enable them to reserve their slots online.

It's a no-brainer, says Schoolinterviews.com.au owner Andrea Carr, whose system is used by 1400 primary and secondary schools across Australia. Most learn of it by word of mouth – typically when a teacher or parent sees it in use at another school.

Primary schools pay $150 a year for unlimited access, while prices for high schools start at $195.

It beats "a great big pile of notes on the desk" and hours of work for teachers, as they try to manually match parent availability with their own and avoid clashes with siblings' interview times, Carr says.

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"They’ll go to the principal and say, 'we've just seen this'," she says.

"The majority [of demand] is from teachers who’ll see it and are sick of spending an entire weekend sorting brothers and sisters' appointments."

Online booking, via TryBooking.com, also works a treat for selling school concert tickets and gauging numbers for parent breakfasts and other school functions, according to Neil Pierson, marketing manager for Covenant Christian School.

An independent, 850-student college on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Covenant prides itself on early adoption.

"Most parents are happy to arrange and pay for things in this way," Pierson says.

"Those who aren't comfortable are a decreasing minority."

At Sydney's Abbotsleigh, virtual excursions, which bypass the need to herd a gaggle of students on and off coaches, by beaming experts from round the world into the classroom, have found favour.

Video conferencing technology has allowed the school’s 1400 girls to connect with an array of experts including researchers at the Great Barrier Reef and Scott Base in Antarctica and Holocaust survivors in New York.

"It makes for a much more enriched experience for the girls to understand the topic they're studying," Abbotsleigh director of technology Warwick Noble says.

"We try to find authentic supporting opportunities for the curriculum."

The school runs up to six virtual excursions a week. Video conferencing is also used to link music students with a 'virtual composer in residence' at the Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio, US.

Meanwhile, the lunchtime trip to the tuck shop has become a cashless transaction, as online ordering and charge cards supersede the traditional pocketful of coins at scores of schools.

Covenant introduced online canteen ordering five years ago. As well as reducing cash handling, the system helps parents keep control of what their kids are eating, in a way the old cash-based, brown bag system could not, Mr Pierson says.

Covenant's tuck shop still sells snacks over the counter but students must use pre-paid cards to make purchases. Parents can set spending limits and preclude specific items.

Similar systems have found favour with schools around the country and a clutch of developers have emerged to service the market.

Perth-based Our Online Canteen offers its system free to schools but takes a 3 per cent cut of sales, while rival MunchMonitor charges families an account fee of $2.50 a term and schools up to 5 per cent of takings.

Our Online Canteen director Teisha Hough said it serviced 250 customers nationwide and had experienced growth of 600 per cent in the past year, as the rump of schools that hadn’t already done so began moving online.

High-tech hero or lunchtime laggard? Has your local school abandoned the old ways of doing things?

 

 

 

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