Compare Systems as an Event Administrator 


The biggest issue to consider though, is the type of scheduling method, not the technology used to support it. Batch processing or book specific times?


Parent data required
Some PTN systems require parent names, email addresses or family links as a pre-requisite to setting up a new event. The EdvalPTN system does not require any of these fields, which speeds deployment of new events.

The EdvalPTN system also increases functionality by allowing parents to link or de-link children from bookings online, such as where the mother wants to see one child and father separately (if the school had loaded family links already), or alternatively make new family links that were not in the system (E.g. An exchange student staying with a family). The key being no parent information is required at all for the system to go live and function as normal.

Customisable templates for parent mailings
Not all PTN systems provide highly customisable mail / email-merge templates and other written material that directly integrates with the system. EdvalPTN provides individualised, printed forms directly from local software, or from the online module, or using multiple supplied Word templates with embedded mail merge fields.

Event advice
Some PTN systems provide only technology, not advice. Unlike these, Edval is directly involved with schools around the world, and works very closely with schools in a collaborative manner to achieve tasks (including constructing the timetable, elective lines, exams and many more areas, depending on the level of school interest in the involvement). As such, EdvalPTN can provide highly detailed and customised advice about setting up and running a PTN. Numerous resource material and other advice are available, and consultants can discuss issues directly as part of the process. This ensures the best solution for schools, who are often surprised at how minor changes can have a big impact.

Long Interviews
Sometimes special need interviews require longer, two slot durations. Not all systems provide this opportunity. EdvalPTN provides the ability to schedule long duration interviews.

Special Interviews
Not all systems manage special interviews, such as teachers who are also parents at the school, and need to have their parent interviews scheduled together with their teacher interviews – and ensure no clashes, or adequate time in block to see their own child’s teachers. Similarly not all systems manage co-scheduled teachers where the support teacher wants to ‘attend’ an interview with another teacher and parent, and also have their own class interviews scheduled separately. EdvalPTN manages both of these types of special interviews very easily.

Split class staffing
Basic PTN scheduling systems do not generally manage split classes well, where there are two teachers on the one class across different periods. EdvalPTN adopts the ‘primarily assigned’ teacher to the class, which is technically better. Some systems manage staff assignments to be class code based, where period based staff assignments provide a better degree of resolution.

Additionally, reports can be obtained which show split class staffing, in (rare) cases where both staff are required to be listed as ‘interview options’ for the class.

Semester class support
Not all systems provide semester class support for PTN events. Interviews for a semester two event may not need to include semester 1 classes, or vice versa. EdvalPTN is fully semester aware, and ensures that only the date relevant classes are included in the event, as per the users selection.

Slot based staff availability
Not all systems provide the ability to mark staff available or not available on a per-slot basis. Marking staff with arrival and departure times (or global meal breaks or session breaks) is a coarse method of managing staff availability compared to the more flexible per slot basis. Additionally staff availability may be dynamically altered on the fly by administrators, to cater to late or sick teachers. Systems which require parents to only book specific times are at a distinct disadvantage to batch processing of schedules.

The workflow with EdvalPTN is that staff availability is only finally or fully specified just moments prior to constructing posting the entire event schedule. This ensures vastly more accurate (last minute) staff availability, and ensures that request for teachers who are now not coming are still collated and managed. Additionally parents who book specific times with a teacher who is suddenly unavailable will be disappointed, or need to be actively advised of this change, where the just-in-time construction of EdvalPTN ensures parents will be booked around the adjusted teacher availability.

Immediate auto-scheduling
Not all systems provide fully automated scheduling. EdvalPTN provides automated scheduling in a batch process for the majority of parent preferences. Post the batch process, the event moves into immediate mode where late parents who register will book to specific times among the remaining slots left. This is entirely automatic and within the parent preferences, ensuring a very fast and painless process for parents.

Similarly any late parents who ring the school can be instantly issued with a scheduled times, without any need for negotiation on the specific times.

Manual scheduling
An event administrator has full control to book or adjust bookings of any interview online at any time. This is done very quickly and easily using modern web controls such as Ajax which do not require the web browser to refresh on each change, making it more like desktop functionality.

Detailed teacher statistics
Not all systems provide detailed statistics. EdvalPTN shows the number of interviews per teacher, the percentage requested, the level of time waste, teacher duration on site, start time, finish time and other key information. This allows the administrator the ability to analyse the event on a per-staff basis.

Detailed parent statistics
Not all systems provide parent statistics. EdvalPTN provides a wide range of statistics to show things like the number of interviews booked, interviews missed, time quality, number of children in the family and more. The priority based interview requests also show quality in the allocation, so it is easy to see where a parent has missed a high level priority request, such as where they have booked late after the teacher was already fully booked out.

Detailed event statistics
Highly detailed statistics are available on the event itself, showing average parent time waste, parent congestion levels by time, level of parental attendance and level of parental interview requests and many more criteria. Many new schools who adopt EdvalPTN are surprised by the low level of parental attendance across the board, but which is quite common in schools. Current methods do not allow this key data to be easily captured, but is readily available with EdvalPTN. Note that number of booked interviews is often double or more with EdvalPTN, than with previous scheduling methods.

Event simulation
The ability to trial schedule an event is valuable for planning purposes, or training or testing the system. EdvalPTN provides a simulator which allows you to specify level of parental attendance and level of interview requests by these. This allows you to consider what-if scenarios, without any parent having submitted any requests. It can be used for considering alternate event times, or which years are in attendance at the event.

Parents can see/modify family links online
Managing family data is critical to efficient scheduling of parent teacher interviews, otherwise interviews for one child will be time separated from other children in the one family, and cause a lot of time waste for the parents.

Not all systems manage family links, or manage them fully. EdvalPTN manages linked children, non-custodial parents, and step-children of parents who may be linked to ONE but not the other parent.

Family links can be initially specified easily by parents online in seconds, or modified if needed. These links can be populated initially by the school, and import / exported for re-use.

Interview demand throttling
Not all systems allow demand throttling, as this is primarily a batch process issue. Systems that force parents to book specific times are not easily able to manage demand, and the sequential nature of these bookings means demand is not able to be dynamically managed at a later time.

EdvalPTN is so efficient at scheduling interviews, schools generally report double the number of interviews are scheduled compared to existing methods or systems. This is very good, but does introduce issues where demand should really be managed. Multiple criteria can be used to manage demand, including capping the initial auto-allocation of interviews per child, capping parent time on site, capping the maximum sequential run of interviews for parents, parent interview density and many more. This ensures better quality interviews and quality events, while also ensuring optimum use of school resources.

Dynamic event parameters
Systems which force parents to book specific times are unable to adjust parameters during the event. EdvalPTN’s preference based approach means event parameters can be dynamically adjusted during the event, based on parent requests. These include the actual start and finish times, meal breaks, staff availability and even interview slot duration. Managing or adjusting these close to the start of the event itself allows far more flexibility and also allows parent preferences for interviews to guide the adjustment. Schools using EdvalPTN report they are able to commence and finish their events earlier than they generally would, as the system allows this level of consideration.

Teacher rooms – Clever group allocation
Not all PTN systems manage the room allocation, and grouping of teachers for efficient event administration, and reduction in parent movement due to multiple interview opportunities per room. EdvalPTN has multiple rooming features, including grouping rooms into areas (buildings or floors), so parent movement can be reduced.

The traditional approach of grouping teachers by faculty maximises or forces parents to move every single interview, so is highly inefficient compared to intelligently grouping staff to allow parents to have multiple sequential interviews in the one room / group or area.

Teacher event attendance
Systems which remove teachers from directly booking interviews has been shown to increase the attendance of teachers. It seems not uncommon to find the odd teacher in schools who actively discourages interviews or who has few students and advises students they are ‘not attending’ the PTN event, though this is not formally advised or discussed with the school directly. EdvalPTN has experience from many schools that show teacher attendance is higher with a system that does not involve the teachers in scheduling, and (also) that it greatly increases the level of interviews booked by parents.

Teacher grouped interviews
There are often instances where a student is taught by the same teacher for more than one subject. In these cases, the parent would only need to see the teacher on one occasion. More basic PTN booking systems treat each ‘subject’ as an interview, and fail to correctly group interviews ‘by teacher’. Systems like EdvalPTN automatically group by teacher, ensuring parents need only specify which teacher they want to see, instead of which ‘subject’ they want to have an interview for – or potentially booking separate interviews, at separate times, to see the same teacher.

Two stage scheduling – Demand regulation
Systems using the basic “book to specific times” method have no effective control over interview demand, and also have no ability to ensure efficient teacher schedules as one parent may book the last slot, despite not really ‘needing’ to book so late – thus ensuring the teacher must attend the entire duration. The batch processing method of scheduling allows a two stage process, where an initial capped allocation of interviews (say up to a maximum of 5) is granted per child to parents. Then, any parent who wants more than five interviews is required to use the book specific time method to organise any additional ones.

In practice, very few parents bother booking more than the allocation manually, partly because it is a tiny bit of extra effort, and also because they are generally happy with their five top interview requests, and do not really need the additional ones so much. Finally the time slots available after the batch processing of the initial stage means that to book above their five interviews, they have limited slots left available to book the extra teachers, so to book these, their parent schedule will have larger time waste.

These issues strongly discourage and manage interview demand highly effectively, without parents being aware the school is adopting a two stage process, or what the cap limit actually is for stage 1 auto-allocation of interviews. By managing this demand effectively using this unique approach, the quality of the interviews can be increased in many ways (slot duration, event time range, time efficiency of both parent and teacher schedules, reduced congestion etc)

Over-subscribed teachers
One common issue in parent teacher interview events is managing teachers who are in high demand, through being a core teacher, or having large classes, or having multiple classes in the years associated with the event. It is quite common for these busy teachers to be over-subscribed and unable to see each parent who wants to see them, as they are booked out very quickly and many parents are simply denied any opportunity to book them. Schools manage this issue in several ways, such as extending the time that these busy teachers are at the event (early starts, late finishes, work through the staff meal breaks etc). Another option is to set these teachers to have ‘half slots’ where they have only five minute interviews while all other teachers have ten minute interview slots. This allows busy teachers double the number of available slots, though at the cost of halving the quality of the interview time available.

The more basic “book to specific time” method of scheduling interviews is in fact far worse in managing over-subscribed teacher interviews, as it highly prioritises and biases the early teachers who can easily book out this teacher very quickly. This is in contrast to the manual paper system of booking interviews, where the busy teacher is in direct control of their own scheduling, and will actively discourage or deny bookings to be made with parents where they know there is very little need for the interview – or at least the need of this request is far lower than others, and by granting this one it will block out more important interviews, so the slots are left free for these by the teacher.

A batch processed schedule method like EdvalPTN, which operates on parent priority for each interview can easily cater to over-subscribed teachers, without forcing the teacher to work longer hours, and without forcing the parents to accept a lower quality in their interview of a half slot time duration, which is unfair on parents – given the time allocated to the interview should be appropriate for the discussion, and not controlled by the level of demand for that particular teacher. The EdvalPTN method ensures that over-subscribed teachers are likely to still be booked out, but all the bookings scheduled for that teacher are the parents high priority interviews. This means demand is being managed fairly for the teacher, and any low priority requests made are prevented – in favour of higher priority requests. While it may seem to those unexperienced with the EdvalPTN system, there is rarely any complaints if any at all, for parents who did not get to see the over-subscribed teacher – as these parents had a low priority for this teacher, and were obviously granted all of their other high priority requests.

Another issue is that “book to specific time” methods have no visibility of the level of demand for over-subscribed teachers, as the only information is that this teacher is perhaps ‘fully booked’. Under the EdvalPTN system however, all requests for this teacher are captured and visible to all, and any parent who missed out on a booking with this teacher will be listed in the missed interview section. The over-subscribed teacher can then conduct follow up calls with the parents who missed out, and can do this in parent priority order – and may not even follow up all requests as extremely low priority requests are not generally needed for follow ups. It should be noted that the book to specific time methods have zero visibility of these missed interviews, so low priority requests are always being denied in any scheduling system, it is just that this is not visible in most.

Event time range outside main event
The more basic “book to specific time” methods of scheduling require the event time start and finish times to be set in stone prior to any booking being made. The EdvalPTN batch approach allows the administrator to set the event time range AFTER the parent requests have been made, and BASED or influenced in part on these requests and the general parent availability. While the event date and expected time range may be published, it is easy to schedule for a late/early start or finish. Where there are over-subscribed teachers who have two or more classes or big classes, these can be managed by scheduling these specific teachers to be available before or after the main event, and thus allow more slots to be available for scheduling. This is not so easy in the basic book to specific time method, as parents have an expectation that all teachers are available from the start and to the end of the event, and (also) find it more difficult to schedule manually where there is unexpected or irregular time availabilities in staff. For example seeing one or two teachers available to start an hour earlier than others – few parents would book into these outlying times if doing so manually, where a batch process will identify which parents CAN do an earlier start, and will prioritise these requests to ensure that all are satisfied as best as can be. The ability of EdvalPTN to schedule interviews outside the published event times ensures that over-subscribed teachers are simply not a problem at all, and cause no complaints or complications to parents who want to see them. It also ensures the quality of the interviews is not compromised by scheduling half-slot interview graduations with these busy teachers.

Parent gaps
The book to specific time method of scheduling allows parents to book gaps between all their interviews if they want, as there is no control at all. A big issue in many PTN events is ensuring on-time running. Where parents have gaps in their schedules, they have no incentive to move on.

EdvalPTN specifically schedules parent interviews sequentially to a large degree, which is time efficient for parents, reduces event congestion, but also (and importantly) acts as a very strong psychological inducement to move on smartly between interviews. If the parent dwells too long in any one interview, they are only wasting their own time at their next interview, as this is generally sequentially after this current one. Parents are thus not aware that this aspect of scheduling, and the event runs much more smoothly – even without bells and other forms of encouragement to move parents on. One comment made by way of feedback to one school using EdvalPTN was “But I all four of my interviews are scheduled back to back. I want gaps between them, just in case I want to spend longer than the normal time, talking to the teacher at any of my interviews.” Clearly parents are not generally mindful of the impact that their overstaying has on the event on-time running in general – but a focus on sequential interview scheduling (manage parent gaps) greatly improves this, and hence improves the quality of the interviews being conducted.

There is no issue with parents getting too many sequential interviews and being too rushed, as EdvalPTN manages a wide range of parameters to specifically manage this, including capping the maximum number of sequential parent interviews, managing overall parent density (especially with those who have multiple children and many interviews), managing maximum parent on-site time, maximum parent time waste, placing gaps in schedules where parents have to move rooms (or areas) between interviews and other such considerations – none of which are effectively considered or managed under manual booking systems. If there was any issue with parents being unhappy with the automatically allocated interview schedule, there is ample facility for parents to adjust their schedules if desired, though this rarely occurs as the quality of the automatically allocated interview schedules is just so good.

PTN Survey
Feedback is a key aspect of parent teacher nights. While it is more common that the interview process involves the educational and behavioural feedback about students, it is very good to use this opportunity to survey parents for several reasons. EdvalPTN includes a detailed list of survey questions for all event participants, as well as information about how and why this is an important aspect of the overall process. Over 50 carefully considered survey questions are provided as samples, ranging from basic ones such as “Is five minutes long enough for an interview duration?” – to more technical ones that collect valuable information and enable improvements to be made to future events, as well as increase parent satisfaction at being asked to provide their feedback on the process, and be reminded at how efficient it was.

Mode of operation
Some PTN systems have only one mode of operation. EdvalPTN has three modes of operation: Preference mode: Parents only enter their time availability and interview preferences. This mode hides the tabs of the scheduling mode as they are not required at this time. Schedule mode: More tabs are available to the parent, and the parent can now view their assigned schedule, or manually adjust or make new bookings in the more traditional book specific times method. View only mode: Parents may only view their schedule, but not make any changes. The event automatically switches to View only mode after the event has finished, to ensure archival accuracy of the schedule.

Systems which do not offer control on the mode of operation are obviously more limited, as there are several situations where the school may want to change how parents interact with the site.

Training materials and parent tips
The EdvalPTN system has detailed training material available, both in user manuals, as well as full screen training videos which are directly accessible by parents using the system. Such material is also contextually sensitive and links to training associated with the current event mode, or the screen which the parent is currently on.

EdvalPTN also has a wide range of parent tips and advice, ensuring they can get the best out of their interview time.

On-site auto-scheduling for late parents
There are always some parents who attend the event without any prior booking, or having mistaken their interview times, or arrived too late. This often requires the on-site event administrator to rapidly issue times or adjusted times for any parent on-the-spot. Both paper systems and manual "book to specific times" systems are at a disadvantage, as the event schedule is highly congested at this late stage (with the event in progress), and the parent is standing at the desk waiting for interview times to be issued on the spot.

It's both difficult and time-consuming to grant interview times in this pressured environment, and adds stress and discontent to the parent, regardless of the fact they probably failed to book correctly, or turned up late.

EdvalPTN allows the administrator to issue all interview times in seconds to parents on-site, as a fully automated process. Example comments on ourtestimonials show this has proved to be a very effective and appreciated feature.