Trump card in our pockets

26th March 2004 at 00:00
We already carry the key to alleviating the admin burden on teachers, writes Stephen Heppell

Banking, insurance, travel and other aspects of our lives have been transformed by smart computer technology. Curiously, in an education industry that pioneered so much early computer application, there is barely a glimmer of the gains that ICT has brought to so many other sectors. How good would it be to see the increasingly exhausting administrative burden fall away from teachers, allowing them to concentrate instead on what they joined the profession for: inspiring learning.

Some schools have invested great time and effort in their own ICT administration systems. The size of the market is such that considerable investment is being made by some global corporations too. But, as ever, it is the pioneering schools that are pushing the envelope of possibilities the furthest.

Around the UK can be seen some really innovative ideas: cashless schools where registration cards also carry credits for meals, free or otherwise; where physical access is smart-card limited so that a child might only enter an area if an older pupil is already present; where electronic registration has enabled a new vertical pastoral and curriculum structure.

In Whitehall, real progress is being made with a common basic data set now fully implemented. This holds out hope for applications such as digital portfolios which are crucial for inclusion. Pupils can lose the record of their successes and exams, negating years of hard work.

When you think of the hours burned checking that exam candidates are in the right place, at the right time, with the right papers, or reconciling attendance registers with parents' perceptions, you realise just what a revolutionary release a decent nationwide admin system might offer.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could automate registration and attendance so that we knew who was where and when; if we could compare the amount of time children spend on the premises of performing arts or sports specialist schools compared to, say, technology colleges; and if every parent knew at the click of a mouse for which exams their children were entered, together with the syllabus, a calendar of exams and hand-in dates for coursework?

It would be wonderful too if children could move seamlessly between schools, retaining access to their best work in a portfolio that would be the basis for their CVs in later life. And wouldn't it be a joy if teachers could have an extra hour that wasn't deducted from leisure or preparation time? ICT-based admin systems hold out a hope of all these things and more.

Many children already carry one part of the solution: bus or library cards, the SIM cards in their phones and, doubtless soon, identity and health cards too. These could be part of the solution, yet they also help to signal just how complex that solution will need to be.

Professor Stephen Heppell is director of Anglia Polytechnic University's Ultralab

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