Douglas Blane reports on software that will keep notes of pupils' behaviour and discipline referrals at your fingertips
Anything that promises school staff more time, less paperwork and better behaved pupils has to be worth a look. On The Button is a school management software package that claims to transform the tracking of pupils'
"It's unbelievably powerful," says Allan Russell, depute headteach of West Calder High, one of five West Lothian schools using the system.
"Our whole referral system is much more effective. It saves us a heap of time. It means you are dealing with referrals rather than administration.
That's the key."
As Mr Russell launches into a description of the previous paper-based system, his body language echoes his words. "It was very stressful, very inefficient.
"Say there was an incident and the referral form was sent to me. I spoke to the pupil and contacted the parents: that's two more sheets of paper. I wrote my action on the referral sheet. A copy had to be filed and a copy went to the teacher. Before you knew it, you had six pieces of paper.
"I then had to go and take them to six different places. All for just one referral. I could spend a whole day walking around the school with bits of paper," he shakes his head.
"With this new system I might spend an hour or two at the computer working on referrals, but it is all time usefully spent."
Designed by two guidance teachers and a software expert, On the Button is a browser-based system from Genkior Systems, of Perth, that works with Windows or Macintosh operating systems. The user-friendly software is installed on a server computer linked to the school's network, allowing users around the school to access it with a password from their own computers.
"That means anything you do on it happens instantly," says Mr Russell.
Details of the incident or behaviour triggering a referral are entered via an on-screen menu of options, which can readily be modified to suit individual schools. The member of staff then selects the referral destination.
"Here, for instance, is where a subject teacher could send it: the PT, PT curriculum, year head, pupil support assistant or guidance teacher," says Mr Russell, showing the options.
There is space to note the teacher's action, such as reprimand, punishment exercise or detention, and space for further comments. A click on the "Commit" button sends all the information to its chosen destination and files a permanent copy, which can be retrieved by sorting through date, teacher or pupil references.
"The recipient gets an email about the referral or, if they have On the Button open, it appears on-screen. They take appropriate action, record it and that goes back to the teacher, who learns exactly what has happened."
The system can be used to identify teachers with large numbers of referrals, who may need further support. More often it is used to provide a record of a pupil's history for interviews with parents.
"Parents of pupils with a lot of referrals come in for a disciplinary meeting," says Mr Russell.
"Now, if you're just dealing with the last incident, a parent might say: 'The teacher's picking on my son; that's not what he says happened.' Pupils too have very short memories.
"There is a lot of scope in a paper system for deflection. But that is very difficult if you can show 12 referrals from six different departments.
"I've seen this make an instant change in the attitude of a parent. It is staggeringly effective; without doubt its one of the most valuable benefits of On the Button."
West Calder High has used the software so far mainly for managing bad behaviour, but the school has plans to introduce incentives for positive behaviour, running on the same system.
There is scope too for using it in other valuable ways, such as departmental news bulletins, pupil profiles and individual education plans.
"The technical support is excellent," says Mr Russell.
"In my experience, teachers will use software if it is simple and effective and gives them more time and less paperwork."
"At our in-service training day, I handed out a double-sided sheet of paper explaining how to use On the Button. I asked the staff to start using it but didn't tell them to stop using paper. None of our teachers has used paper for referrals since that day."
On the Button backs itself up every day, is password protected and logs itself out automatically. Its cost varies with school roll but typically is Pounds 3,500 for 1,000 pupils. The system runs on a dedicated server with a minimum specification of a network card, Pentium 4 processor, 512Mb RAM and a 30Gb hard disc.
Genkior Systems, www.genkior.co.uktel 0131 312 6846 email firstname.lastname@example.org