Keeping apace with the changes in technology

The UK is vastly becoming a cashless society. Long gone are the days of paying a conductor on a bus. Disappearing are the days of coin operated parking meters. Mobile payment apps are becoming more regular and less and less physical money is being exchanged.

So, as expected given the direction of change, the situation in schools is increasingly becoming cashlessly centred. Much of this has focussed on cashless school meals, with companies such as Parent Pay, Paym, and +Pay at the front of pre-paid school lunches, eradicating the need for pupils to carry lunch money. However, schools are displaying more cutting edge technology than to solely offer catering benefits. Encouraging efficiency and ensuring that staff, parents and students can interact and operate to the best of their abilities is a change that is gaining momentum.

Langley Hall Primary Academy
Langley Hall Primary Academy is one such school which is embracing the technology revolution. Formed in 2011 under the government’s free school scheme, the school has seen a dramatic increase in pupil intake to 728 students, aged between four and 11. Spread across two sites, with an array of before and after school clubs, the school was working through a logistical minefield. To keep track of its students and to efficiently handle all of the logistics, Langley Hall turned to technology. Laser Learning was employed to manage a new IT system, implementing Dyalog APL and Near Field Communications as the best method available.

Chris Paul, an expert Dyalog APL programmer, commented: “I started the software development in January 2014, and the first thing we did was to create a solution for booking afterschool clubs. It worked brilliantly. When the idea of adding the shuttle buses and the minibus services also entered the equation, I thought that Near Field Communications (NFC) would be the easiest solution.

“NFC works by tagging. Each child is issued with a wristband – called a ‘Ziggiband’ – as well as a backup tag on their school tie and bag. We then added school lunches so parents could choose in advance what their child would have for lunch, and then added medical information. The solution was ready to be fully implemented in September 2014.”

Langley Hall currently uses the Laser Learning system to manage the pick up and drop of its Minibus service. The children’s tags are scanned when they board the bus and again when they get off the bus. The system also tracks the shuttle bus service which runs between the Upper School and Lower School for swimming lessons, and after school clubs.

The preschool club and after school clubs booking system, where parents book clubs for their child for the full term, is also implemented within the system. This helps staff to know exactly which clubs each child will attend on which days of the week. It also has an online payment facility.

Sally Eaton, head of Langley Hall, says of the system: “We went from having two full time members of staff looking after the clubs and the bookings, to a part timer who also does other jobs as well. Parents log into the system and they can see all the clubs we run and they simply click on the clubs they want. At every stage, the system reminds them that if they go further into the system, they will be committing themselves to a full term, and the associated payment. We wanted a system which could scan a child and then know what clubs they should be in that particular day.”

Benefits of the system
The system also provides a medical solution where parents enter information about medical conditions, allergies and intolerances, including religious beliefs and great dislikes of certain food items. For meal purposes the three levels are colour coded with allergies in red, intolerances in yellow and ‘others’ in green. The information is displayed to staff with a picture of the child, their name, class, and other relevant information.

A school dinner booking facility where parents pre-book their child’s meals for a full term also uses the tagging system. Children are tagged when they queue in the dinner hall, and staff have a screen which immediately shows a picture of the child with name and class, as well as medical information regarding allergies, identifying which meal type they should serve the child that day.

Finally, the program incorporates key alerts, such as e-mail for parents and children, as well as notification of homework and when assignments are to be handed in, teacher meetings etc. The full daily itinerary for each individual child also falls under this bracket.

Kate Judd works in the School Administration Office and is responsible for Clubs and Transport. She said: “The system shows us if someone signs in on the iPad in the Reception in the entrance Hall. It also tracks when staff arrives and leaves. You can see the children being scanned over the road in the Dinner Hall. They are colour coded, and as the queue moves, they change colour. We use the live feed for shuttle buses between the sites – on and off – they’re also colour coded, so we can see what time they get on and off. We use the system a huge amount – even just to check where a child is during the day. If a child has not gone across to lunch we can find them, and get them over there. It’s massively useful.”

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