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The teacher's friend

Chris Flanagan finds hi-tech solutions to those old admin problems

Teaching is like an iceberg - the tip that surfaces in the classroom between 9am and 3.15pm hides a mass of planning, preparation, assessment, recording and reporting that lies beneath the surface.

If you want to melt that iceberg down, then information and communication technology can help to manage these "out-of-classroom" essentials. You can use software that you probably already have on your computer to take the pain out of literacy and numeracy planning, and explore what is available at little or no cost on the Internet to help you.

Nearly every computer has some form of "office suite" - a word processor and spreadsheet and probably a database program. Even if you are not confident at using these, you can learn many of the basic functions of a word processor by setting yourself the practical task of designing a simple planning sheet. To start with:

* Familiarise yourself with the tools that your computer has. Particularly, play with the choices in the "File" and "Edit" sections on the toolbar until you are happy that you know what everything does (the "Copy", "Cut" and "Paste" options are particularly useful).

* Next, learn to import and place graphics using the "Insert" section (most computers come with file art that will brighten up your worksheets and impress any visiting OFSTED inspectors).

* Use the tabulation feature on the word processor to lay out a grid, adding appropriate titles to rows and columns. (In Windows 95 this appears as a rectangle with a blue top and white mid-section criss-crossed by red lines in your standard toolbar, while the more adept can use the Excel program.) * Once done you can begin using this immediately by printing out a few copies and writing your weekly or half-termly plans straight on to it. As your skills and confidence grow, the entries can be typed straight into the sheet on the computer. You will find that some things are repeated frequently. Copying and pasting these can save time. If you change your mind about when something will be done, it is easy to cut and paste this to another position.

If you're new to computers, take time to experiment and don't be downhearted if you get things wrong at first - it's just a matter of playing with the technology and finding what it can do. After a while it will seem like second nature.

You can also use your word processor to produce templates for other things you do frequently - a note to parents saying that a child has felt unwell in class today or a "well done" certificate for good work or effort. Just insert the child's name and hit the "print" button!

A timesaving use for an Excel spreadsheet is to produce "tick sheets" for all manner of things - to track which pupils have completed or attained something, trip payments, spellingreading scores or who's had a turn at taking the register to the school office. If you are inspired, you could devise simple formulae to help you analyse scores over a period of time or use a spreadsheet's sorting capabilities to rank scores or rates of improvement.

Further help is at hand courtesy of the boffins at the Department for Education and Employment, who have made available exemplary schemes of work for science, ICT, technology, history and geog-raphy in electronic form.

Surf over to www.standards., and download ready-made schemes for these subjects in Microsoft Word format. You can add to, revise and customise them just as you wish. You don't have to worry about how to create a table to set your planning out nicely - all that fancy stuff is done for you. If you want to create a unit of work from scratch, there are blank templates for each subject - just click in a box and start typing.

To really get to grips with your literacy and numeracy planning, though, I suggest that you (or the head) dip into the school budget. For an outlay of under pound;150 for a site licence, Literacy Complete and Numeracy Complete from The Skills Factory ( claim to save you six hours a week on planning time for these core areas. The software works in the same way you do:

* It considers who is being taught by allowing you to arrange your pupils into study groups. This could be by year, class or ability group within a class.

* Next it focuses on what is being taught. All the literacy or numeracy objectives are available within a database, which can be searched to find just what you need.

* Then it allows you to plan how things will be taught by "dragging and dropping" (highlighting and moving) related objectives into a study unit. One mouse click will then take you into a daily planning grid so that you can enter your daily activities. This grid can be customised to the way that you work, allowing, for example, the tasks of classroom assistants or other adults to be recorded.

* Finally, it makes it easy for you to decide when things will be taught by providing a planning calendar to place the study units on. Once this stage is completed, attainment reports for the children are produced. As soon as children attain the planned objectives within a study unit their names can be ticked. The software tracks and compares planned with actual attainment making it easy to see which children are slipping behind, and enabling you to adjust future planning accordingly.

A full range of professional-looking reports can be printed, from the content of individual study units and daily or long-term plans to individual pupils' attainment profiles. Study units can be imported into your computer, making it easy for you to share your plans with work colleagues via the Internet and e-mail. If you have a computer at home, your planning can be done there and transported to school on a floppy disk or e-mailed in. Software like this is going to melt that iceberg pretty quickly.

Computerised reports have not always received a good press, with a common criticism being that one reads much like another. However, so can handwritten ones.

You can, of course, simply make yourself a report template to work within, typing comments that are relevant to each child for each subject area. This will keep them individualised, but is still fairly time-consuming.

There are commercial programs around which will produce professional, succinct and quick reports, but often at the expense of perceived individuality.

If you are not sure that this is for you, you can try this approach for free before you commit too much time and money.

A "freeware" program created by Tim Newton called Report Maker is available on the Internet at www.btinternet.comtimnreport.htm.

Its concept is very simple. The teacher creates a bank of statements to use in reports. These are organised by subject but it is also possible to have comment banks for general areas such as overall effort, behaviour, contribution to class life, and so on. There are plenty of example statements provided to get you going. Simple codes are inserted into the statements so that once you have told the software that you are writing about a girl, it will always use the correct terms - she, her - or the child's actual name.

Getting the statements right is the most time-consuming part but is pretty much a once-only operation. When that is done, the process of creating a report is simply a matter of selecting a child and clicking on the appropriate statements, which are inserted into the report. Part of - or the whole - report can be copied to the Windows clipboard and pasted into your word processor, which makes printing the report using a school letterhead exceptionally easy.

Chris Flanagan is head of Sutton-on-Sea primary, visit website address www.sutton.


* Lesson Planner LessonPlannerindex.html - originally designed by Andy Williams for secondary schools but adaptable for primaries with a bit of work.

"Shareware" means that it is free to try, but if you intend to keep and use it you should do the honourable thing and cough up approximately pound;30 to its author.

* Report Writer

A companion to Lesson Planner and free to registered users of that software, and it is available from the same website.

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