It is a fact that no two schools are the same. The factors that influence schools are wide ranging… staff, geographical location, lessons, results, local community, history, ethos, local weather, shape, size and choices of paint of premises, employment prospects, the list is endless. All of these factors are mixed together with a good healthy dollop of chaos for good measure and what you have is an institution that’s dedicated to improving the lives of a thousand (give or take) young souls and their families.
Schools are run on data. Find any teacher, any school manager, any person involved in the pastoral support of children in a school. Any time they are not dealing face to face with children, then they are trying to deal with the avalanche of data that comes about from the interactions of those children and the infinite number of factors that influence them in their school careers.
It may be that this is in order to look for a pattern, to identify problems and causes or successes and causes or it may just be that there is a requirement for it to be done.
The idea of information and data management systems in schools is not new. There are a vast number of systems available, some of them broad in scope such as “virtual learning environments / managed learning systems” which allow digitised teaching resources to be matched to individuals and groups of children, their digitised work to be organised and analysed and feed back to be provided in a range of ways.
Other systems provide portals to completing homework and other systems still provide database systems in order to manage all manner of information about the school, staff and children.
The problem is that all of these systems are (to lesser or greater extent) hegemonic. Take for example a commonly used School Information Management System. It is an SQL Server database with a simplified user interface front end. It contains a number of rigid, pre-defined tables, based on an organisation’s idea of what a school should need, to record data about students, staff, classrooms and so on. There are also facilities to report data but only in a particular way. Systems like this become the de-facto standard, (almost) every school uses it and is forced to bend itself in order to fit into the structure of the system.
This should not be the case. It is not the school who should have to bend to fit the data system, the system should be made to fit the school!
I am a school teacher and I also have a passion for computer science and computer programming. In 2009 a manager at my own school approached me. My own school is exactly the same as every other school in that we are different. We have our own, unique problems and our own unique ways of doing things. The particular issue he approached me about was to do with managing data about discipline.
Initially he wanted a system that would allow senior school leaders to organise their sanctions and record details about outcomes. Had students been successfully rehabilitated, had restorative justice been served? Was more to be done?
In beginning to create this system but with the additional insight of a teacher who had to work under the school discipline system, and with the constant feedback from my managers and fellow teachers I created a system for “Internal Discipline, On Line” (Affectionately referred to as IDOL) that provided a whole school, team approach to managing discipline, starting with a method for reporting and following the school hierarchy in order to best manage responses to a satisfactory conclusion.
IDOL, Internal Discipline On Line
Managing Behavioural Incidents
This system is still being used now in 2016 (with a few tweaks)
We have also created other systems, for example to ease the burden on admin staff for monitoring attendance to extra curricular clubs and study support.
These systems have all been created using Microsoft’s .NET architecture and SQL Server databases. They have helped our school to better manage our data for our unique issues in a way that fits how we work together as a school.
It has been possible to do this because of the concept of rapid application development and it was made possible by using .NET, Visual Web Developer Express and SQL Server.
There are many organisations that use .NET to create professional systems but they are aimed at schools in general. The greatest opportunity to make the greatest difference lies in the ability of .NET and SQL Server to allow new systems like this to be created and tailored for specific, unique purposes very rapidly.