Interest in computerised registration, which was considerably boosted by government funding for anti-truancy initiatives, is still very much alive. The registration debate is not about whether putting the register on computer is a good idea for it very evidently is but about how you transfer the data into the system from the classroom.
One obvious and simple solution is to use swipe cards. Some heads, however, worry about the security of swipe cards, although they work well in many places. Another common method is to have paper registers read by an optical mark reader. Then there is Bromcom's ingenious RadioEars, which makes use of a radio link to send information to the school office PC from a small portable computer operated in class by the teacher.
Meanwhile, I heard this week of a project which, although probably beyond the reach of many schools at the moment, puts down a strong marker for the future. Several times I have suggested that if any school should be fortunate (or far-seeing) enough to have a PC network covering every working room, then it ought to be simple enough to use it for registration. Now this is planned to happen in a particularly interesting way at Central Technology College in Gloucester.
There, 50 members of staff will each have a colour notebook PC that can be linked to the school network via the teacher's desk. School computer staff have written software for these machines, so that what teachers will see on the screen is more or less a standard register. Once this is marked, the information will go down the line, via the network, to the office and into the SIMS registration software, which at the moment is being "fed" by an optical mark reader.
The OMR-based system is already producing time savings, notably by eliminating the need for an afternoon registration period, and there is more efficiency to come when the notebooks are on line. This is a very high-specification system, and Systems Integrated Research, which is installing it, sees all manner of possibilities for the curriculum as well as for administration.
Meanwhile, Bromcom Radio-Ears continues to make progress. Managing director Ali Guryel says that there is now a user base of 80 institutions. One interesting development is increasing take-up of Ears by further education colleges where there is a demand for accurate student attendance information which can be audited for funding puposes, and where the sprawling nature of many campuses makes the radio link attractive.
Gradually, too, Bromcom is using the existence of the radio link to make extra features available already there is a panic button for the teacher, and messaging and paging from office to the classroom. Other add-ons are in the pipeline and will be announced shortly.
It is, of course, expensive to install Ears Pounds 12,000 will buy a relatively basic installation for a smallish secondary school. Bromcom has always maintained that this has to be measured against increased efficiency. A school can, it is claimed, add certainly one, and perhaps two teaching periods to the working week, once Ears is up and running. Independent research into the cost-saving aspects is available from Bromcom's headquarters.
Gerald Haigh Systems Integrated Research, East Mill Bridgefoot Belper, Derbyshire, DE56 1XQ; Bromcom Computers, 417-421 Bromley Road, Downham, Bromley, Kent BR1 4PJ