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Creating Parent Accounts for your VLE from Sims, Facility CMIS or other MIS

A question which comes up frequently is how shall we create parent accounts for our VLE or parental engagement system? This discussion is relevant whichever VLE / parental engagement system you are using and whatever your MIS.

There’s 2 main ways of creating parental access accounts:

  1. Create one parental access account per student in the MIS.
  2. Create an account per contact in the MIS who has parental responsibility for a student.
    When schools first start thinking about parental access, then the one parental access account per student is usually the first one which springs to mind. This is certainly the easiest way to initially manage the accounts : you can just take an extract of students from your system and use a similar way of creating the parental accounts as you create your student accounts.

Option 2 initially is harder, because to be blunt, the quality of the contact information in any MIS is generally pretty bad. This ranges from missing information which needs be used in creating the account name, to parents being in the system multiple times.

The reasons for this include:

  1. Quirks in the MIS front end make it easier to create new contacts than to find ones linked to siblings and linking them to the current record.
  2. Insufficient information in CTF imports to find and link existing contacts.
  3. Lack of staff training to find and link exisiting contacts.
  4. Until you want to create parental accounts you don’t actually need to collect all the information i.e. Mr Willis is good enough to address letters home with, but not enough information to create uniquely named accounts with.
    Hence, before you can begin creating accounts for individual contacts you need to clean your contact information.

So a parental access account per student initially looks very appealing. However, there are several immediate problems with it:

  1. Sharing an account between multiple people is just plain wrong. For starters there is no auditing. If the application is purely read-only you might accept this, but if there’s any write back/updating from the account, even something as simple as messaging to the teachers, then this is unacceptable. Imagine what could be done in an acrimonious split in the name of the other party. There probably isn’t any system which is purely read-only, even the ones with just read-only access to information can probably set their display name or has a messaging system.
  2. If a parent has multiple children at the school, they will need to login multiple times to see all their children. This is adding extra barriers to use by the parents. We need to make it as easy for them as possible if we want them to engage with the school.
  3. Separated couples cannot be allowed to share an account. If they do they may accidentally or maliciously get access to information they should not have. Again in a purely read-only system, if such a beast exists, you might get away with it.
  4. If a couple split up and one loses parental responsibility, you will need to revoke the account and issue a new one for the parent who still has parental responsibility. Rather than just revoke the one account.

Point 4 gives rise to an further important consideration. Your parental accounts need constant maintenance, you can’t just create them once and forget about them. You need to monitor the contacts to see if anyone has had their parental access removed or has had a court order raised against them. This needs to be done automatically or pro-actively and not just when someone mentions it to you. Their rights to see the student’s information needs to get removed immediately.

So in my opinion you need to create an account per parental contact in your MIS from the get go.

Once you have created your accounts what do you do with them? Well presumably the SLT has a vision for what they are going to be used for or there’s really no point going down this road. As part of this vision they should have considered about how to distribute the credentials. You could just send them home in a letter, but that’s insecure and not really engaging the parents with what they can do with them. The best ideas that I have seen about this is inviting the parents and their children to sessions at the school where the school explains what they are trying to achieve, how the parents and pupils can best make use of this information and does a quick training session on how to use the parental engagement tools. They are then given their credentials at the session and should know pretty much exactly what they can do and how they can engage with the school.