Maidstone Grammar School

Use of PARS Connect and Insight Software

Author: Stephen J Moores
www.mgs.kent.sch.uk

Maidstone Grammar School, a state run school in the town takes pupils from the ages of 11-18 providing GCSE and A Level courses. Currently the school has approximately 1300 pupils on roll. The school was founded in 1549 to teach Latin grammar to students. Latin can still be taught to those who wish to take it, although it is no longer the main focus of the school. Maidstone Grammar was described as the top state run school in the town, in the Financial Times in 1995.

Background

In 2004 prior to my arrival in school my predecessor had sourced an application that would work in partnership with our MIS System (Capita SIMS) to enable staff to take registers electronically. The original requirement was for an application that would run on a PDA and enable staff to take a register anywhere in school via a wireless connection. This was difficult to achieve because of hardware limitations at the time, PDA’s were fickle and did not have battery backups etc and the trial proved a little inconclusive, hampered by only eight wireless access points.

The Project

Following my arrival we re-visited the task and found a more powerful, resilient PDA from Dell. This was then able to showcase the full functionality of the Pocket PARS applet (part of the main PARS application) and Staff were able to connect to a new (48 Access Point) Wireless network and take registers from anywhere in school, not only that but the addition of a snapshot facility enabled staff to save data for a given date and even take registers off site (with the application automatically re-syncing when back in range). All of the above was complemented by a desktop version of the software with even more functionality than the PDA version. The TASC PARS Application was it seemed showing us all the data we had for years been inputting into our MIS but never seeing output in a user friendly format.

Actions taken

We complemented the PARS Desktop system in 2007 with PARS Connect; this is a web based version of the PARS Desktop software and whilst it has reduced functionality it still used the familiar and intuitive PARS interface. This enabled cross network use of the registration system and even use external to school, with a web enabled device like a smart phone. This gave staff three different ways to complete registration (Pocket PARS on a PDA, PARS Desktop on a fixed PC or laptop and PARS Connect from any internet enabled device). Staff  responded with comments like, “very easy to use” and “does what it says on the tin”. Our staff were effective in its use with minor instruction and guidance. PARS is not a complicated application to use and is intuitive in its operation.
TASC are very responsive to any issues we encounter. For example, updates to our MIS that sometimes interfere with the relationship between PARS & SIMS and are also able to change and add new features we request following user feedback etc. Other services we have used from TASC include the visit of their training officer to take staff through the finer points of the software and to advise on how to get the best in our particular situation from the features available, all of which have been exemplary, timely and extremely helpful. TASC Software’s policy of charging one fixed fee for their whole application (along with annual licensing and support charges) means we are free to use as much or as little of the features in PARS as we wish. An example of this is our recent adoption of PARS as our recording mechanism for behaviour incidents, positive and negative. Staff are able to issue merits and sanctions with the tap of a few buttons in Pocket PARS and the event is forwarded to the Student Services Staff for action. The event is also written to the SIMS behaviour area and is thus an automatic record into the MIS without further intervention.

Results

We are very happy with the service and products offered to us by TASC Software and have also recently adopted their INSIGHT product to assist us in more parental engagement. This has now gone live with year 8 & 10 students; parents and carers can log in from home to a secure parents’ portal and see a host of information about their child in real-time.

I wish TASC Software the very best in their future endeavours and can whole heartily recommend both their products, licensing, prices, service and commitment to working with schools to make their products deliver.