What a difference two decades make

Gerald Haigh

Early September 1975 at the Blessed Eddie Waring Comprehensive, and 4C2 is waiting noisily for Mr Johnson to teach them maths. Mr Johnson, meanwhile, is looking for 4C2 in the annexe. Down in the art department, Miss Lustig is trying to decide which of the three cheering classes packing the corridor is actually supposed to be there. And in the gym, Mr Dervish is hanging absently by his ankles from the wallbars, and beginning to hope that 5D never arrives at all.

The only person capable of sorting everything out is Moira, the senior mistress. Only she understands the huge manual timetabling board in the science prep room. Unfortunately, she had trouble with her Austin Allegro again this morning, and she is in her office with the door shut, on the phone to the RAC.

This morning, class lists were given out, having been laboriously typed by the secretary. They already have numerous inked alterations, and whether any teacher has the latest version is anybody's guess. Somewhere at the back of the deputy head's room is a pile of pupil records sent up from the feeder schools. Nobody has had time to look at them. Next month they will be quietly stowed away in a cupboard. In September 1995, of course, things are very different. The timetable was compiled by a computer program which produced several drafts for the staff to discuss. As a result, the timetable started up faultlessly on the first day.

New pupil records came on floppy disc from the feeder schools, and were fed painlessly into the central admin system. Term started, therefore, with an accurate pupil database, from which class and tutor group lists were quickly printed and circulated. Minor, last- minute changes were easily accommodated and computerised registration was in action on day one.

Because the school is quickly settled, the head has time to meet with the bursar and the chair of the governors' finance committee. Together they call up budget details on the head's workstation, and try out yet another "what if" solution that might enable them to survive financially until the next financial year. That, of course, is the new world of computerised admin.

Or, just possibly, it would have been like that had not a few things got in the way. For one thing, the staff rebelled against computerised registration. "What's wrong with straightforward paper registers?" was the cry, and the deputy head realised that he should have done more introductory work. Many of the benefits of computerised registration accrue not to form tutors but to senior management and office staff, and teachers have to be won over gently.

The pupil database is still not up to date, because the school secretaries simply did not have a quiet time in which to learn the latest version of the system. They could have used some protected time in which to get to grips with the job. Neither is the timetable as foolproof as it should be. The new software turns out to be not exactly what was needed, but how could teachers judge this on the strength of brief demonstrations at an exhibition?

But the biggest problem is that the school's hardware needs updating. The governors can hardly believe that the expensive computers which they welcomed with a wine and cheese party only five years ago are now out of date. With hindsight, they should have looked further ahead and spent even more at the time. And they should have had a running annual budget for information technology perhaps they could have thought about leasing.

Information technology, in other words, is making some inroads into Blessed Eddie Waring's needs, and could do a lot more, but there are human and financial limitations. So, this November, the deputy head will write another pleading report for the governors' finance committee.

Where to get more information

SIMS. The SIMS Centre, Abbot's Road, Priory Business Park. Cardington, Bedford. MK44 3SG. For some years the market leader. A wide range of modules covering all the main admin and management functions. Increasingly moving to Windows.

Key Solutions , Garrard House, 2-6 Homesdale Road, Bromley, Kent. BR2 9LZ. School administration software in Windows.

Phoenix Software a suite of Windows Software for school administration. Scott Reed Associates, Atticus House, Turk Street, Alton, Hants GU34 1EF Script for Windows. A wide range of Windows modules for school administration and management. Sanderson PSS, South Point, Accommodation Road, Leeds. LS10 1PP Facility Systems. Facility Timetabler for Windows and Facility Options for Windows. A timetabler and an options program. Facility Systems. Lenton Business Centre, Lenton Boulevard. Nottingham NG7 2BY 0115 9786556

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