Teachers2Parents SMS: How to mess up a service in one move

It’s now very common for schools to use text messaging to relay important messages to parents.

There are many advantages to this. Most parents have some form of mobile phone capable of receiving messages. It’s more timely and environmentally-friendly than sending printed letters, particularly if something has to be changed quickly. Not everyone has access to a tablet or phone capable of running an app or receiving email, while relaying messages via phone or trusting the pupils to remember details is impractical.

One service which allows schools to forget about the technicalities of operating such a text service is Teachers2Parents, a brand name of EduSpot.

Teachers or administrators at the school have a way to easily send messages to the all parents, or a subset, either immediately or at a scheduled time.

Teachers2Parents claims to be the UK market leader in this technology, with over 10,000 schools signed up already.

For the few years I’ve been receiving text messages from the two local schools my kids attend, there’s been no problem. The messages arrive with the name of the sender rather than a seemingly random mobile number, which makes it easy to file the messages into conversations for reference/archive.

That is, until about a month ago.

Something odd started happening when I received messages from mobile phone numbers I’d never seen before. When I looked at the messages, they began with the name of the school (which used to be the Sender ID), a weird “short URL” web link (which doesn’t work), and then the message.

No biggie in itself, you might think, until I then realised that subsequent messages were coming from different mobile numbers.

After a while, some of those seemingly random numbers started repeating. Only some of those repeats were for the other school.

In effect, my phone was now constructing several conversation threads based on the phone number they’d come from, but with messages from both schools in every thread.

This came to a head when I ‘lost’ a message about a snow day relating to the infant school because it had effectively been buried in a flurry of messages from the junior school — at least until late in the evening when I decided to search through all the messages received that day.

After emailing EduSpot, I received a response suggesting that this was a planned change. Indeed, messages are sent from “various UK numbers” that are “unique to each message” (well, until they repeat, that is).

Rather unhelpfully, they then effectively pass the buck to the schools themselves, by suggesting I “[contact] the school directly about any questions you may have regarding the messages you are receiving.”

The problem with this is that the schools aren’t doing anything differently, and have no control over how the messages are sent.

This is less of an issue for parents with children at a single school (or where only one school uses the Teachers2Parents service) but even then, messages come from at least five different numbers (probably more).

No explanation has been given as to why this change has been made. I can’t think it’s down to cost as my research suggests there’s no additional cost to using a Sender ID.

It’s possible some schools have requested the ability for parents to reply to messages — something which isn’t possible for messages sent with a Sender ID. However, a seemingly random pool of mobile numbers isn’t going to help with getting parents’ messages back to the school. In any case, most school messages don’t warrant a text response, and there are better ways for schools to get responses from parents should they want them.

This feels like a real step backwards from a service which seems to pride itself on its market leading position.

Thankfully I’ll only have to put up with the more annoying aspects of this change for another four months, before my kids are both in the same school. I’ll still end up receiving messages from multiple numbers though, which my tidy side really hates.

Or maybe, just maybe, EduSpot will realise this was a retrograde step and reinstate sender IDs for its text messaging service.