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Security monitor that knows when to phone home

Truancy is getting harder at one Moray school that is piloting a computer-based telephone attendance system, reports David Henderson.

Jooking off, to use the Buckie High term, has become much more difficult now that the school has introduced a computer-based telephone attendance system, say its fifth year pupils.

Phonemaster, which is widely used in Canada and the United States, automatically dials the pupil's home if the child is not registered at school. Shortly after 9am, the recorded call is made. "Buckie High here," says the voice. "We're telephoning to say your child is not at school today." And sometimes the system keeps telephoning.

Lesley Coull, an S5 student, admits "jooking off" has been cut by the system. "People are probably afraid their parents will find out," she says.

Third and fourth year pupils are more likely to attend, rather than go elsewhere, she and her friends believe.

Nina Walker adds: "A lot of people still write notes themselves or come to school and go away."

That is one of the system's shortcomings. It has others, Sally Reid says. "It phoned my home 51 times but I'd already phoned in. It was quite funny, actually."

Teachers take registration at 8.45am as normal and pass their tally slip to the front office. The administration staff feed the details into the computer and any unknown absence is chased up by a computer-driven call, freeing up teachers' time.

"We had to think how we handled registration. It's sharpened up adminstration for all of us," the head says.

Parents can leave messages on the system until 8pm, e-mail or hand in a written note explaining absences. Since the system was introduced last September, the number of absence notes has dropped from around 80 to 20 a day.

In Canada, the system improved attendance by 2 per cent, but Mr Sugden believes it is too early to judge how much it is affecting truancy at Buckie High.

"It's a good service for parents and pupils and heightens awareness of attendance. There cannot be anyone in Buckie who does not know about it. The strong message is that the school is on the ball," Mr Sugden says.

In future, the school believes the system could deliver much more information to parents directly.

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