Parent Pay adds fuel to its fire

Following a disastrous software “upgrade” on 6th June, it appears that ParentPay, the controversial on-line payment system used by many schools, finally appears to have noticed it has a problem. In an email sent to all its 1.7 million victims users today, CEO Clint Wilson apologised that people were having difficulties with the new system and conceding their support service was overwhelmed. He promised to fix the problems and get it right over the summer.

Perhaps in order to emphasise the fact that he really don’t know much about this technology stuff, the email was sent in a Microsoft-only format, with an invitation to “view it in your web browser” if you weren’t using Hotmail, or whatever else it was designed for. It really doesn’t bode well.

The ParentPay website was always awkward, requiring very specific web browsers in order to operate, and using insecure technologies rather than HTML. The latest update relied very heavily on JavaScript and assumed specific screen resolutions, forcing people to upgrade browsers and wait for updates in order to use it – and it looks ridiculous on a desktop-sized screen.

At the same time ParentPay implemented a system where parents were made to pre-pay in to the account and then allocate funds later, rather than paying for the items at the time they were selected/purchased. Subsequently the company has sought to defend this tiresome system as an initiative to help low-income families, although exactly how pre-payment does this isn’t clear. The fact that ParentPay is left holding money for longer before the school gets is probably didn’t even cross their mind.

Parents, already leery about the whole ParentPay system and the way it has been imposed on them by schools in spite of widespread long-standing dissatisfaction, have taken to social media to slag off the crass software update and appalling customer service..

It’s a sad fact that schools and local authorities lack the necessary IT savvy to spot a turkey when its marching up and down in front of them, and instead opt for “safety” in numbers. I don’t actually blame the schools for this – it’s not their job. It’s the government and local authorities that are unable to provide good advice – but local authority and government IT projects are, of course, a byword for expensive shambles.

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