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Playing Your Cards Right

(from Education Equipment)

Last term's school pupil photographs at Bradford Grammar School, an independant school dating back to the 17th century, were to be used for more than the customary enclosure to doting aunts and uncles, since the exercise was the first step towards the process of increasing security through photo-ID cards.

All 1100 pupils and the 200 teaching and ancillary staff were issued with the cards which, through a barcode and magnetic stripe, have been designed to perform a number of functions, including a library card and meal ticket. Even school visitors are given a card on arrival so that pupils know who is authorised to be on site.

The cards are produced by a special printing method, called Dye-Sublimation, which allows the individual's picture to be transferred directly on to credit card size plastic from a photograph, video image or CD-ROM at the same time as the school logo and any other data required such as the unique barcode.

In fact, nearly all the photographs taken over the two days at Bradford Grammar School were downloaded from a CD-ROM supplied by the photographer, by the card producer TPTechnologies, thus saving time and expense. The fact that the cards are multi-functional gives rise to substantial benefits.

"All pupils and staff already had a library card" says Dr Brian Parker, teacher of chemistry and school safety officer, "so we combined this into the ID card. It's barcode is now the library ticket, the actual code being based on the roll number allocated to each pupil when they start at the school and which they keep throughout their school years.

The barcode is read into the library computer so that we can keep track of who has taken out which books as well as issue reminders accordingly. This is very useful for staff as well because we often have books out on long term loan for research purposes".

Furthermore, the ID card has also replaced the school's dinner ticket system; an initiative which, in itself, should recoup the money spent on the card and new software.

The school had always operated a ticket system for meals but before the introduction of the ID cards the number of meals per pupil was estimated and paid for by parents in advance each term. The appropriate number of printed tickets were then issued to each pupil.

However, in a typical year not all meals would be claimed, either through commitments away from school, or perhaps illness, and some tickets could be lost. Now the kitchen staff simply check the photo, scan the barcode and the data is fed straight through to the billing computer. In future parents will be invoiced in arrears each term for actual meals taken.

"This process will be monitored during the first year of operation in order to anticipate the demand for meals", says Dr Parker. "This should result in savings on wasted food, not to mention the money saved on having meal tickets security printed".

Whilst the school has no plans to use the cards for registration, it will be looking at using the magnetic stripe on the reverse side to the photo and barcode, as access control to areas such as IT facility.

It is possible to programme cards to unlock a door - and to change the code each week, if so desired - which would give pupils more freedom to use the computers. The school's software systems will record who has used the facility so that demand can be monitored.

"Pupils do have respect for the cards," concludes Dr Parker. "Not one has misplaced them since their introduction, not even in the junior school!".

ID Cards & Membership Cards - School Photo ID Cards. Credit-card style, tough and durable!