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Let the system do the chasing

Attendance data can be handled by a school's information management system (IMS). It helps identify attendance patterns - for individuals, groups, the whole school - and to compile reports to government and local authority.

Many schools use computers to mark the registers, sending the data straight into the IMS. Dartmouth high (see above) uses Pars, the portable attendance registration system from Tasc Software. You can mark a register every period, catching children who dodge lessons after registration. Oldham now has every secondary school using lesson-by-lesson registration and analyses the data centrally.

The next step is to use technology to follow up absentees. Calling home on the first day of unexplained absence uses up admin time. With an automatic system, the administrator creates a list of names to be called and the computer then phones each parent with an invitation to call back. It will continue to call until it gets a response.

George Eliot college in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, uses one such system, Truancy Call.J The head teacher,Tim Over, explains that they'd been trying to run a calling system manually. "We had a first-day call policy in theory, but the practice was different. In a busy office it takes up time to work down the list."

Now, Truancy Call does the hard work. The human element is still essential, though, says Mr Over. "You need to do the filtering," he says And at George Eliot, there's a highly competent administrator who can apply the system with the necessary discretion.J There's clearly a balance here between technology and personal contact, and it's likely that each school will do the equation differently. What's certain, though, is that the application of technology to the management of attendance has real implications for the roles and responsibilities of form tutors, year heads, senior managers and office workers. Every school has had to tackle this who-does-what issue - which is, incidentally, affected by the teachers' workload agreement.

A list of suppliers of attendance and other management software can be found on the website of Becta, the education technology agency, at www.becta.org.ukleadersdisplay.cfm?section=3_3_3

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