Smart cards

Students could soon have a card in their wallets that lets them into their school grounds, records their attendance for lessons,lets them borrow library books and then pays forlunch and their bus fare home.

A trial under way at Nottingham Bluecoat school is using smart cards. They contain a small computer chip that can hold much more information than the magnetic stripe on thecards we're all used to,such as our credit or bank cards.

The Church of England technology college hasgiven these cards to its 200 sixth-formers as part of a DfEE project. They automatically monitor attendance, but also give students an incentive to turn up for class by giving them reward points that can be spent in Nottingham's shops and leisure facilities. They can also be used to pay fares on the city's buses.

But the card's best trick is that it stores each student's record of achievement and acts as an electronic CV. Charles Slade, Bluecoat's media co-ordinator, says this should help the city's GuideLine Career Services better monitor students' progress and give them the best advice.

The trial follows last year's recommendation by the social exclusion unit thatthe Government introducea smart youth card that offers young people retail discounts, helps them to choose from the many career and educational optionswhenthey finish school and rewards them for learning as well as tracking their attendance.

But smart cards cost around pound;5 each - a magnetic stripe card costs between pound;1 and pound;1.50. Radun Control sells both systems to schools, but general manager Roger Watson says the cheaper magnetic stripe version is more popular.

He says the company is starting to receive more orders for attendance monitoring systems from schools wanting to combat truancy. Seven years ago, John Port comprehensive in Etwell, Derby, led the way when it was the first school to have one installed.

Deputy head Frank Briggs says a serious truancy problem prompted the school's management to allocate more than pound;25,000 to 120 card readers and cabling, linking its dozen buildings on an edge-of-city site. Truancy at the 1,800 pupil school eased "almost overnight" after the system was installed.

The system also simplifies the transfer of registration information to the DfEE and lets teachers know exactly which classroom a student is in at any time.

John Port students alsouse their cards to pay for school meals. And as the value is stored on thesystem rather than thecard, funds can be restoredif it is lost.

Chris Johnston Radun Control: Tel: 01685 887600. DfEE learning card:

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