The office computer makes it so easy to record and analyse the facts and figures of attendance and truancy that users inevitably speculate about what other aspects of pupil conduct can be handled in the same sort of way.
This line of thought has led researchers at the Leeds authority's Attendance Unit to see whether it might be possible to load information on pupil behaviour into the computer. If it can, then all sorts of possibilities are opened up: summaries of the behaviour of individuals and groups; comparisons between groups and individuals; the tracking of trends; observation of differences in approach between teachers; judgments about the effect of various school policies.
The approach at Leeds has been to develop a database, using Microsoft Access, of incidents of misbehaviour with information under six headings details of the pupil, the nature of the incident (chosen from a list of about a dozen categories), the name of the member of staff reporting it, the time it happened, the place and the action taken.
The system is under development using genuine data from a group of co-operating schools. The main problem is how to come up with a sensible list of categories for "nature of the incident". Some are apparently straightforward deliberate breaking of a window will presumably be entered under "damage to property". Lots of happenings, though, are more complicated, and the system is written so that each school can choose its own categories.
Mark Blackwood, one of the developers, is finding that "The categories which schools want to use may be entirely different from each other." Many schools already record and track behaviour manually using printed forms. Bearing in mind therefore that, as with computerised registration, a behaviour database will not be a remedy but a source of information, it seems likely that the Leeds team will in a year or so have something that schools will find useful. Meanwhile, it would be interesting to hear from anyone else who is working on similar lines.
Another area of school life which is ripe and ready for the application of information technology is the handling of payment for school meals, and The TES has from time to time reported on swipe-card payment systems. Now, from Haberdashers Aske's School for Boys in Elstree comes news of the most advanced cashless payment system yet.
Combining IBM's 4695 Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) equipment with software from Pabulum Consultants, the Haberdashers Aske's system uses touch technology the cashier simply touches on the screen the items which the pupil has on his tray. Because this is much quicker than operating a keyboard, the screen can list many more items, and the pupil can choose any combination of foods, each of which is separately itemised on the account. The pupil pays with a smart card, loaded at the beginning of term in the school office with "cash" to the value of his parents' contribution for meals. Each time he uses the card, the system tells him how much money he has left. The same card runs an entirely separate account for tuck.
A slightly (for the pupils) ominous feature of this system is that it keeps a detailed record of each boy's eating habits. This is available to any parent who suspects that her boy is living on chips. Nevertheless, staff at the school report that pupils like the system, which is used for all age groups including the seven-year-olds in the prep school department. They apparently see it as a first step into the adult world of credit and charge cards.
Details of this cashless system from Mark Kneen, product manager at IBM. 76 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PZ. Tel: 0171 202 3000