“We wanted to customize to our hearts content. One of the lessons we’ve learned is that going forward, the costs associated with maintaining a proprietary system that’s been heavily customized is too expensive.”
For thirteen years a government high school in the Cayman Islands used a system I developed with the vice principal. It was written in MS FoxPro 2.6 and ran on the school’s network. For the last two years an international school in Thailand has used a system I developed (and continue to develop) with the head of its secondary school. It is written in MS FoxPro 9 and runs on the school’s network. All the teachers and everyone in the school administration have access.
A basic question in the use of any school information system is that if the school should adapt to the system or if the system should adapt to the way the school is run. The ideal solution is, of course, the last option, but as the quote at the top indicates, it requires a lot of work with possibly high accompanying cost.
Do free system exist? Systems that can be accessed via the school’s network or through the Internet. The answer is ‘yes.’ Here is a presentation of some of them.
To decide which is best suited to your school is not an easy task. I am afraid one has to run a demo or do a trial before one can decide. If no free system fits the bill even after using its customisation features (if they exist), one may try a commercial system or ask someone to write a system from scratch. Both may come with a hefty price tag.
My guess is that many schools have no system per se, but use home made spreadsheets and/or data bases to do its student management tasks. That implies a greater risk for inconsistent data, unnecessary work load for the teachers entering data, and little or no options for analysing the data.
I have listed some free systems here.