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Rector keeps an electronic eye on kids

A Scottish school is using wireless technology to cut back on escapees from the classroom.

The 1,100-pupil Stranraer Academy has introduced Bromcom, a portable wireless data collecting system, to track not just student attendance but behaviour and academic progress.

Every teacher has a Bromcom which is capable of absorbing information on attendance period by period. The school office can contact families of absent students by 9.20am. The school says the system has cut down unauthorised absences - "with further progress certain this session".

Along with testing and tracking of pupil progress, the school says this has greatly improved the quality of discussions, interviews and reports for parents, pupils and teachers.

One senior manager says: "Student referrals are dealth with and feedback given to individual teachers within 24 hours. This has impacted considerably on whole-school ethos."

But the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, whose current newsletter features the work of the school, wonders whether electronic monitoring of pupil movement and progress might impinge on children's rights and asks what could be done to prevent this happening.

Stranraer's across-the-board initiatives to improve learning for pupils have none the less won recognition from the ethos network. But it is its progress on the technology front that has won particular acclaim. This year it became the first Scottish school to receive an "excellence in education award" from RM, the UK's leading educational IT company.

The school plans to have electronic whiteboards in every department by August next year, and the maths department is already using the "Maths Alive" electronic syllabus. Every teacher is to be issued with a laptop by the start of the next session.

Stranraer has also revamped its curriculum and the support it offers students. But Jimmy Higgins, the rector, acknowledges in a report to the ethos network: "It would be great to give an unqualified report of positive progress across the school, perhaps that every student had achieved hisher full potential and that all support needs were being fully met. Would that it were so, but we are not there yet."

The school is comfortable that it is meeting or exceeding its own attainment targets but, while it is near the Scottish average for free meal entitlement, Higher passes and Standard grade Credit awards are about five points down against the national averages. Attendance has improved, but unauthorised absences last year were still running at more than double the Scottish figure.

Mr Higgins promises even greater use of technology, with homework and lessons online.

There will also be "a robust alternatives-to-exclusion policy". Mr Higgins describes this as avoiding "the educational and social waste created by debarring the most vulnerable youngsters from the very process which can keep them in touch with a productive future within their own community".

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