We have always run our own parent mail system. In the early days it was easy - we used First Class and could send as many e-mails as we wanted to. We had to move away from FC a few years ago and now use Microsoft Office 365 to send our mail and alerts. Initially we ran into the problem of MS restricting how many e-mails we could send per day (500 rings a bell). As I have 2,500 parents that was a major problem. One of our teckies worked out how to create groups of e-mails and now when I send it appears that I only send 1 e-mail per group. (My parents are divided into Year Groups so a mail to all parents takes the equivalent of 7 e-mails.)
This was working fine until ....... ISPs started blocking our e-mails. It's weird. I've run a test with my own Yahoo.co.uk address - they don't block all the mail, just some and there is no pattern. It's not the length of the e-mail or the kind of attachment - there is really no pattern. As far as I can tell, all mail to Sky.com is blocked and BTConnect.com is patchy. The other problem with this service is I don't know how many e-mails are bouncing.
How does your school do e-mails to parents? Are you doing it yourself? How do you stop ISPs presuming that it is SPAM? Are you buying into a service? Are they any good / worth the money? How easy are these services to configure? How flexible are they?
Help. What should be an easy task is turning into a real pain.
We just had GroupCall, ParentMail and Tucasi in to demonstrate their solutions. All three looked like pretty good products and worth looking at. We've gone for GroupCall as the right solution for us. Integrates with SIMS and makes it real easy to e-mail, snail mail or text both parents and staff.
We looked at a few options and eventually went for SchoolPost from Emptus, rather than sending parents emails for them to lose or claim never arrived it basically provides a webmail-esque interface for parents to view their messages and they get email notifications based on their preferences. It also handles responses via custom forms and pulls classes/groups from sims.
It does text messages also although we never use them.
Its a very well thought out system, everything just seems logical and they're always improving it.
Worth having a look at @Schoolcomms too, they sponsor the MIS forum and have some good information available there. They have a cool parent gateway app that works like imessenger to deliver free messages with an app.
We are using two way at the moment teachers2parents and Moodle integrated with SIMS. If we need to send a letter we use Moodle forums and for quick messages we use teachers2parents. Seems to work fine so far and has been a big step toward going paperless.
With @Schoolcomms we have text messages, email and app notifications. We get the majority of parents one way or another (apart from the awkward ones who only want paper copies) and the reduction in printing costs has more than paid for the subscription.
Spam email is such a big issue globally for ISPs and just about everyone else who provides internet infrastructure that there are rafts of different checkpoints and hurdles that exist all along the route from you clicking send to it arriving in a parent's inbox. The key ones you are likely to face is the ISP you are sending from and the suppliers of your parent's email accounts (yahoo, gmail, hotmail, sky etc.).
Your ISP may have checks in place to prevent large bulk sends. They would do this because they are concerned you might be part of a botnet (e.g. Grum botnet - Wikipedia). They will have complex heuristics in place to try and identify behaviour that looks like it might come from a botnet. Some ISPs are pretty brutal in how they deal with this. They care because they as an ISP may get blocked as a whole by other ISPs - which could pretty much put them out of business.
The parent's ISP will have checks in place to try and weed out spam. Again the heuristics they use are typically very complex and will include lots of variables not looking at just the individual e-mail. One of the crucial things they will look at is DNS Blackhole Lists and DNS White lists - the most popular of which is The Spamhaus Project - Wikipedia. Many of the huge consumer ISPs also have their own lists that you can register with directly and even have proprietary encryption/authentication systems (e.g. yahoo DKIM)
So given both of these it is really important that you don't repeatedly send to email addresses that are invalid, don't exist or where the recipient is marking you as SPAM. Your ISP (should...) be returning your emails if they are undeliverable - it's worth checking that they always do. Don't ignore these, you need to act on them. I'm afraid to say that once ISPs start to block your domain it is pretty hard work getting them to unblock you, but it can be done.
Products such as ours and I expect the others listed will manage all this for you. E.g. automatically deal with bounced emails by showing you delivery status, providing reports of blocked accounts, and stopping sending to them until you confirm that the issue is resolved.
Send parents an email? How hard can it be?
Last edited by Schoolcomms; 13th December 2013 at 02:19 PM.
Thanks for the comprehensive reply. I don't think the e-mails are getting blocked by our ISP as some parents are receiving all of them. We are presently running an iPad project with our Yr7s. My test e-mail (yahoo) hasn't had a single e-mail that contains the word iPad!!!!
One of my biggest problems with the system we use is that we don't get bounces so there may be a large number that have no chance of getting through. I find this a big problem because, of the 2500 addresses on our database, I have no idea how many are getting there. My Head keeps asking what percentage of parents have provided an address but that could be significantly more than actually get the mail!!
If you use one of the systems talked about then the emails are sent from a different domain and IP and are registered with the ISPs so that they don't get blocked even with words like "iPad" in - which is probably being blocked because the whole world is marketing (and buying) tablets for Christmas.