SMS service ensures exams proceed without fail


29 January 2013

The cost of exams is a major entry in the expenditure column of a college’s balance sheet, but, as Rob Elliott explains, moves to simplify the current FE exams process could lessen their financial impact.

The recent heavy snowfall caused minimum disruption for students at Totton College, near Southampton, due to its policy of communicating by text message. Information about college closures, exam timetables and transport routes were able to be sent directly to the mobile phones of the 1,200 16-18 year old students that attend.

The snow fell at a particularly inauspicious time for the students who were sitting January module exams. The ability to communicate electronically via Capita’s UNIT-e Student Messaging meant the college did everything they could to reduce stress for students and keep them constantly up-to-date with the latest arrangements.

Alex Richards is assistant principal, college services, at Totton College. He explains: “We are fortunate that our exams team live nearby and were able to come in alongside other local staff to run the site, so the exams could still go ahead. However, this meant we quickly needed to get a number of different messages to different people. Firstly, to let the general student body know they should stay at home, but sending different messages to those undertaking exams to let them know the exams were still on. We also wanted to inform these students that with the weather expected to worsen, we were going to try to bring the exam start times forward a little.

“Via text messaging we were able to keep all our students informed, and let them know that if they couldn’t make the earlier time we would delay the start. In the end, the vast majority made it in – only three students were unable to attend.”

Capita’s UNIT-e Student Messaging is designed to help colleges send multiple real-time communications to individuals or groups of students via email or SMS to their mobile phones or other devices.

Rob Elliott, products manager at Capita, says: “The heavy snowfall could have caused major disruption for students and been particularly stressful for those with exams. However, electronic messaging is now a key part of the integrated communications strategy at Totton College and, by using the information they have in their UNIT-e system, the college is able to ensure no student is ever left out in the cold.  With more and more students owning smartphones we’re likely to see an increasing number of colleges adopting smartphone apps, enabling students to access college information such as notices and timetables from their phone.” 

This is not the first time that Totton College has used the software to communicate with their students in a crisis. During the heavy snowfall in February 2010, the college sent a record breaking 23,000 messages to keep staff and students in the loop and text messaging has proved invaluable on occasions when weather conditions suddenly worsened in the space of a few hours.

Recalling one incident in particular, Alex comments: “In a previous year, when the weather unexpectedly worsened during the day, we were told by our transport companies that if we wanted to get students from a certain area safely home by bus, they needed to leave sooner rather than later. As we store all our transport information in UNIT-e, we were able to pinpoint which students take which routes home and immediately text them as a group to let them know their buses were leaving at 1.30pm rather than 4.30pm.

“The number of text messages we send is growing all the time, and remote access means our MIS staff do not have to be physically at the college to send the texts. It’s an incredibly efficient and cost effective approach, and particularly useful in emergencies.”