SIXTH-FORMER Heather Tunnicliffe is looking forward to getting home from school earlier, thanks to her new smart card.
Heather, 16, receives the education maintenance allowance, which means having to log into lessons. "Just having to swipe a card will mean we can leave on time, which means I can make the early bus and get home quicker," she says.
A clean getaway at the end of the school day may be an unforeseen incentive to the Government's new Connexions card for teenagers.
But as well as helping her register quickly, Heather's card also doubles as her bus pass, gives discounts at leisure centres, shops and cafes and can be used as an identity card and to verify her age. She and her fellow sixth-formers at the Nottingham Bluecoat School are among the first in the country to receive the new Connexions card. The card is being piloted in 19 schools and colleges in the Greater Nottingham area, and in three other areas in England. The Nottingham pilot is run by Guideline Careers Services, part of a consortium which has won the bid to launch the card nationally.
It will be phased in region-by-region from September as part of the Government's Connexions strategy to encourage young people to stay in education and training. Ultimately the card will reward students with extra "loyalty points" for attendance, punctuality and good work.
Nottingham Bluecoat School sixth-formers have been using learning cards - a precursor to the Connexions card - for the past four months. "The students have been enthusiastic about it," said head of sixth form Graham Roseblade.
"I think it's going to improve information about attendance and will save time with the registration in the morning.
"And it will just enable our monitoring and tracking of students to be much more efficient and accurate."
At a packed meeting, Helen Palmer, the Nottingham Connexions Card project co-ordinator, explains the new plastic card o sixth-formers. It carries the student's photograph and name and has a hidden microprocessor that registers attendance in class. The card is partly based on the Nottingham Citycard - an existing loyalty card which gives customers points at more than 200 shops, cafes and restaurants. The new card can also be used on city buses.
In class, students will need to swipe the card on a portable reader at the start of each lesson. They must make sure they don't log in before the teacher has arrived, or they will be logged into the previous class.
There are data protection issues. "If you don't want to receive direct marketing then you need to write to this address and tell them," Helen Palmer tells students.
But doesn't the "big brother" aspect - the tracking the card entails - bother the students? "No, because at the end of the day if we want our educational maintenance allowance, this is one way we can say we're going to get it," says 16-year-old Adam Dyjasek.
"When it first came out it used to be really confusing. You used to go into lessons and think, 'Right, I've swiped in, do I need to swipe out?' In the double period you used to swipe in, swipe out and swipe in again - really confusing."
But now he and fellow sixth-formers see the benefits of having the card - especially the discounts at leisure centres.
"That's a really big help," says Neelam Sharma. "I know 10 per cent is not that much, but it accumulates quite a lot of savings."
She receives a pound;40-a-week education maintenance allowance and says this prevents her having to work long hours on a Saturday. Having a card that keeps track of you is a small price to pay, she believes.
"In the long run I suppose it'll be useful having one card for everything, but if you lose that card you lose everything. It's a lot to lose."
Card of all trades: Nottingham Bluecoat School students are among the first in the country to use the new Connexions card. The card helps them register quickly, but also doubles as a bus pass and discount card.