Electronic register is shocking waste of time

4th June 2004 at 01:00
As a deputy head in charge of reporting, I have to deal with the angry parents who come to parents' days and demand to know why their child has been marked down as only attending 85 per cent of the maths lessons or being absent from school on five days, when he or she was definitely in.

I have to apologise and put it down to computer glitches with our electronic registration. I would like to see the computers scrapped and a return to paper registration.

Our much-vaunted highly expensive electronic registration was introduced to make monitoring attendance more simple and effective. Like so many information and communications technology management tools designed for educational settings, it seems to have had the opposite effect.

The electronic register is a little grey key book. You are supposed to crack in a couple of codes and download your class list. Except that it doesn't always work. Sometimes the server is busy and you have to wait. At other times, it just won't work because the signal is bad in that part of the building. Other bizarre excuses have included tree branches growing across the path of the electronic waves in the playground.

A register is the sort of routine activity that you want to do as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. The last thing you want is for teachers to have to wait to see if the server is in a good or bad mood that day.

Turbulent classes tumble into the room and teachers need to give their full attention to getting them on task. Ticking a list of names with a pencil can be done in a few seconds.

Paper registers give you a pattern of ticks and circles over a page, so at a glance you can see the attendance patterns of the pupils. With an electronic register more menu switching is necessary to do this, more eyeballing of a machine screen instead of looking at the pupils in the lesson.

According to the manufacturers, the wonder of electronic registration is that, at a flick of a button, you can see lesson attendance for each pupil in the school. But the IT fails so frequently on the registers that there is often a whole load of question marks to look at.

The trouble with the computer registers is that they highlight huge amounts of data, which are just too extensive and inaccurate for the school attendance officers to chase up effectively for each child. Our parents became irritated by being challenged about inaccurate information and, as a result of this, we decided to take attendance to lessons off our reports.

I have just had to have my silly electronic register re-set. Pupils with entrepreneurial zeal helped themselves to the batteries - they make good refills for personal stereos and bicycle lamps. They don't nick the machines. They know mickey-mouse technology when they see it.

The author is a senior manager in a London secondary school

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