Parental usernames - why we don't (currently) do them & why the Government needs to put more thought in...
If you're involved in educational technology in the UK you'll probably be aware of "targets" for all sorts of things - but the thing that's made most schools wake up recently is the issue of Real Time Reporting. Put simply(ish) this is the target that any parent should be able to access their child's progress reports online - at any time. This is a target for secondaries for 2010, while primaries get an extra two years to get this in place. A quick Google for information turns up all sorts of things, but here's a quote from the Government News Distribution Service pages:
By September 2008 all secondary schools will be expected to provide information to parents covering achievement, progress, attendance, behaviour and special needs, on a timely and frequent basis - this should be at least once per term.By September 2010 all secondary schools will need to offer parents real-time access to this information (including the opportunity for secure online access) wherever they are and whenever they want. [More]
It was the 2005 publication of Harnessing Technology which gave the oft-quoted, rarely understood, completely missed "access to an online learning space" target ("a target with no teeth" as I heard someone wearing a Becta badge describe it once). The updated version of HT was published recently - for a point of reference, here's a completely unscientific word cloud of the 250 most popular words in the 2005 original (click to enlarge):
- How many usernames is this per school?
If you have 1000 pupils in your school, is this two thousand usernames? Two per pupil? One per family? More than two per family? What about parents who don't live locally?
- Who manages the usernames, passwords and authentication?
Do schools create, delete, monitor and administer the usernames? Do they need to employ someone to do this - surely recent scandals about failures in data handling mean that this can't be left to part-time responsibilities for non-specialist staff.
- What asumptions are being made here?
That parents can use a system like this? That they can be relied on to remember their login details? Who will do the training / support / equipping?
- When the parents do forget their details, who do they call?
The school? If so, they're likely to call in the evening... will they just leave a message saying I can't log in? When does the school call back? During the day while they're out at work? Anyone for answerphone ping-pong? How does the school validate that it's really the parent on the phone?
- What about multiple roles / responsibilities / access rights?
I might be a parent of a child at one school, a teacher of a hundred children at another, and not allowed to access the records of a child at another, a governor at another school - well, probably not that exact scenario, but you get the idea. Who is going to manage and enforce those relationships and the data structures which underpin them? The school? The LA? The RBC? The Government Department? Becta?
- What's the role of pupils in this?
Since in many (but not all) families some children will be more capable in using technology than their parents, will it be significant if a pupil installs a keylogger on their home PC? Maybe it's just a subtle way of enabling students to see their own data under Freedom of Information (that's obviously not a serious point... I think)?
Maybe there are obvious answers to these, but in my mind this fundamentally isn't a technological problem (like I said, we could create plenty of usernames if we wanted to...) and therefore funding/finding a technological solution won't do, will it? If it will, please tell me so I can stop worrying...
I wonder if the Contact Centre of a Local Authority might be part of the answer to this, however there are clear issues around validation, data security, authentication & validation(heck, even Apple don't get this last one right all the time). A Contact Centre, even an effective one:
- could deal with calls out of hours (good);
- would keep a record of what happens (good);
- would need access to data, password resetting tools, etc. (potentially not good);
- could take much of the burden from schools (good);
- would need detailed information on who was allowed to see what data (hmmm, the data structures thing again);
- would need to validate that you are who you say you are, Caller... (errrr...).
Now, please don't read into this that I'm advocating a Call Centre to manage parental access to this - but can you think of any alternative to turning schools into ICT support centres for their parental communities? Will schools / LAs get additional funding to provide out-of-hours technical and organisational support - because it's fairly clear that, if as a parent you're trying to log in to a school's web site and can't, then you're going to want to call the school as a first resort. Has anyone thought of the implications of this or has more power to/access to data 24/7/365 by parents been thought up in isolation from the context of schools, which it clearly exists within? You could always read The Register's Parents to get classroom spynet in 2010 article and the predictable comments - some of which are predictably empty & reactionary, while others raise good questions.