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Radio makes the grade;Administration

Wireless networks save hours of paperwork and can speed up your record-keeping, says Gerald Haigh

Much of the paperwork that teachers have to do is inevitable. If the Government makes schools more accountable and wants to drive up standards, then there has to be a measurement of classroom performance with the consequent number crunching. Technology's role is to make it all as easy as possible.

The data-handling is not difficult - software modules for managing assessment information and making it easy to understand already feature in standard administration systems, such as those produced by Capita Education (formerly SIMS) and RM. As always, the challenge is to get the figures and grades from the classroom into the computer with the least possible need for copying them or changing them into a different form.

Similar problems arise with computerised attendance registration. The data handling can only happen when the facts and figures have been moved from the teacher's desk to the computer. One solution is to enable the teacher to call up the register by radio from the school's central computer to a hand-held device in the classroom. The teacher marks this register on the hand-held and returns it by radio to the office.

This is the modus operandi of the system developed and marketed by Bromcom Computers - initially as RadioEars, latterly as Bromcom wNET. The change of name reflects the realisation, by Bromcom and its customers, that once the school has a radio link and the computing power, the system can be used for a variety of tasks. Hence its development into an electronic grade book: the teacher enters grades into the hand-held device and sends them straight into the assessment module.

A number of schools are using this approach. Hartshill grant-maintained school in Warwickshire finds that a number of tasks have been made easier. Alan Wheelhouse, the head of IT, says completing interim reports, with an effort and an attainment grade for each pupil in each subject, has been greatly speeded up. It was a long, drawn-out process - a four-week cycle - with the very real possibility that pupils could end up with wrongly-transcribed grades.

Applying IT to the process has halved the time, reduced errors almost to nil and simplified the job. Using the radio link, teachers call up their teaching group details from the office computer, into the hand-held Bromcom computers on which pupils' grades can be entered - at home, later, if they wish.

Back at school, the completed grade lists are radioed back to the central computer, where the software does the rest. The Bromcom data can be handled by other programs, such as SIMS Assessment Manager. At Hartshill School, an intranet makes it possible for teachers to call up assessment data on any networked computer.

This is a powerful and helpful system which helps to bridge the gap between teachers' own records and the school's central administration system. Properly managed, it will save both teaching and administration time.

Bromcom's Electronic Grade Book, as a module added to the existing Bromcom wNET system, costs pound;2,000. An additional module linking the grade book to SIMS Assessment Manager costs pound;1,000. Just announced is Bromcom's Electronic Mark Book which - as the name suggests - allows teachers to enter lesson grades and marks, and then consolidate them into longer term grades.

Bromcom Computers 0181 461 3737

Capita Education Services 01234 838080

RM 01235 826000

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