Teacher Rachel Johnston's online report system is in line for a BETT award, writes Sal McKeown
Earlier this year there was a gasp of moral outrage at the news that a school was advertising for a proofreader to check reports before they were sent out to parents. Maybe the critics would have been happier if reports went out with grammar mistakes, or if teachers spent less time in the classroom and more with the spellchecker. Fortunately there are alternatives.
ReportBox, devised by primary schoolteacher Rachel Johnston and her web designer husband Stuart, is a finalist in the BETT Awards 2013 in the ICT Leadership and Management Solutions section.
Rachel Johnston was working in a primary school in Coventry and struggling to produce school reports on the system the school provided. She created her own system which was a overcomplicated combination of multiple Word documents and mail merge. But like many teacher-inspired workarounds it was risky as there were so many opportunities for errors to creep in. Just imagine scanning your child's report to see that he has changed his name or become a 'she' halfway through.
The appeal for teachers? 'Simplicity, comprehensiveness and price'
What was needed was a 'proper' system. Fortunately Rachel's husband was the very man to devise a suitable solution to deal with all these anomalies. The key features which will appeal to teachers are the simplicity, the comprehensiveness and the price.
It is a web-based system so there is no need to download software on to a server and teachers can share reports and work from home. This means they can do their reports at a time and place which suits them.
There is a massive bank of more than 2,000 comments for each subject so teachers has to decide whether a pupil is in the lower, middle or higher category for a subject, call up the comment which gives an overview of the topics covered that term and the skills shown by pupils at that level. The comment can then be edited and personalised without typing out the same information 20 or more items per subject.
The clever programming ensures that ReportBox knows if it is dealing with a boy or a girl so it uses the right pronouns. It is easy for teachers to input their own comments or share comments with other teachers in their year group.
Each school has its own secure log-in and users have their own passwords. There are spelling tools and a checker which ensures that the teacher has a comment for every single child for every subject. if a school wants to add all its pupils to ReportBox in one go, there is a 'wizard' to import the data from a school management system.
The software also has a range of templates so that schools can choose a suitable look and feel for their reports or create their own from scratch. The final report comes as a pdf file. Alternatively the report can be exported as data, ready for mail merging into the school's existing reporting process.
Finally the cost, which is likely to appeal to most schools. ReportBox charges annual licence fees based on the size of schools and they range from £19 a year to £299.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
Web-based reporting system for primary schools. Annual licence fees (ex VAT): individual teachers with up to 35 students, £19; small schools with up to 100 pupils, £99; medium schools with up to 300 students, £199; large schools with unlimited students £299.
Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist. Her book, How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child, is published by Crimson Publishing. You can catch her own BETT 2013 seminar session – "Art, music, story telling, video, animation and green screening in the inclusive classroom" – in the SEN Theatre on Thursday, January 31, 13:15-14:00.