Principals: Simplifying rolls only a step in the right direction

Simplifications to school rolls and registers are just steps in the right direction towards keeping all pupil records online instead of on paper, principals said.

The Department of Education has told all 3,300 primary schools they will no longer have to fill in as much information as in the past into pupil roll books, such as details of parents’ occupations or monthly average attendances, from September.

However, class teachers will still have to maintain roll books and principals must keep the official register in manual formats, despite years of campaigning for a national primary pupil database.

The letter received this week said it will consider allowing primary schools use only electronic records for the register, classroom roll books, and daily attendance books, as work on a national online database of primary pupils progresses. Such a system is already in place in second-level schools but is only now being developed by the department’s statistics and IT units for the primary sector.

“This is a substantial project and the department envisages starting a consultation process with the management bodies and relevant education partners in early autumn. The primary online pupil database will, when operational, involve the recording of data at an individual pupil level, including the collection of the PPSN [number],” schools have been told.

The department said further discussions are needed, because of the complexities of electronic record keeping, on minimum requirements for data integrity, audit trails, data protection, oversight, and other systems.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said some of the changes are welcome, such as no longer requiring average attendance levels that were used up to the 1960s to determine staffing levels. Schools can now also use a spreadsheet in place of the daily attendance book, allowing automatic calculations of monthly, quarterly and annual data that is still required for official records.

“There are many welcome points, particularly removing the need for data that has not been relevant for decades. It’s a step in the right direction, we just need to get the train moving faster,” said IPPN director Seán Cottrell. “A national database should allow a more equitable system for staffing and grants because it will give a clear profile of every school in terms of disadvantage, special needs, Travellers and newcomer children, when added to already available information from CSO and social welfare.”

Mr Cottrell said the eventual eradication of old-fashioned methods should have benefits in classrooms, but it needs to happen soon.

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