Neil Munro reports on an ICT system under trial that simplifies classroom management and saves teachers time
Many claims have been made for the virtues of information and communications technology in helping teachers manage their practice.
Probably none is so stark as that from Gillian Penny, deputy headteacher at Dalry Primary in North Ayrshire.
"It hardly needs any training, apart perhaps from a little to discover that you don't need much training," she says, referring to Buttons, which is described as "the complete class management system" and is available, as it were, at the click of a button.
"Our staff are, how shall I describe it, not ICT enthusiasts," Ms Penny says, "so it helps to have something that is designed specifically not to require computer expertise or training. It simply tells you what to do next and you get on with it."
Buttons was developed by ITelligent Classrooms, a company run by two former teachers steeped in the needs of the classroom and the professional requirements of teachers. Bill Moffat, the retired headteacher of Thorn Primary in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, had the idea and Eric Young, who taught English for 25 years and was active in the Educational Institute of Scotland, was the chief software designer.
One of its advantages, says Ms Penny, who has been helping to trial Buttons in her school since October, is that it makes the teacher's job much easier, from classroom organisation to recording and reporting pupils'
progress. It can be mundane but save time and effort when compiling class or group lists, producing display materials or artwork and creating and storing letters.
However, Ms Penny says, it is much more capable than that. She has found it particularly useful in target-setting for groups of pupils in maths and language. The youngsters are set weekly targets, with the Buttons "target setter" element giving immediate access to 5-14 materials.
"It helps the pupils to know what they are trying to learn," Ms Penny says.
"And it allows the school to create reports, to track the pupils' targets and see how they've achieved them.
"It helps teachers focus on what they are trying to teach; it's very easy these days for classwork to become textbook-bound."
Mr Young says the intention is "to give classroom teachers very sophisticated IT skills without them having to digest a 600-page manual or go on a three-week course".
He adds: "Buttons also addresses some of the issues about how teachers can monitor and support individual learning. Unlike a lot of IT solutions, it does this in a way that is supportive without being restrictive."
Six primaries in Orkney are now lining up to test Buttons next session. And other versions of the programme are in preparation to assist nurseries, special schools and further education colleges.
Liz Baxter, the head of Orphir Primary in Orkney and a former development officer with Learning and Teaching Scotland, has seen the system's potential at first hand. She has been asked to devise a strategy with the other five primaries for how best to implement Buttons.
"The beauty of piloting this is that Eric will take on any adaptations to suit our needs," she says.
Mr Young has held one training session with the teachers. Now staff want to dabble with it and prepare questions before he returns for a second session.
Mrs Baxter believes the programme will reduce the paperwork teachers do on children's development needs. "If they input the data on Buttons, it will always be there. It will take 15 minutes a day and they will have the information for writing reports and suggestions for learning plans.
"Most of our classes are composite, so there are four stages in a class," she adds. "If this can save time, it is an important workload issue. We want to spend our time on teaching and learning, not organisation."
ITelligentclassrooms, tel 01505 812121 or 01899 221779; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org www.foundationsoflearning.co.uk