FreeMIS Part 1

Hereafter follows the first installment of the long and winding tale of how a maths and computing teacher came to be the developer of a web based open source school management information system called FreeMIS.

It began when I arrived at North Berwick High School, and took on a whole school IT role. The school needed a report writing solution, so I made one, using the most readily available tool in school - Filemaker Pro. I didn't know much about databases, and taught myself as I went along. This solution caught the attention of East Lothian Council, and I then spent some time on a working group that put together a solution for reporting and target setting. This was based on my previous work, and Dave Rawson did the target setting side. This solution was picked up by most of the high schools in East Lothian. I soon realised, though, that maintaining 6 different versions of a Filemaker Pro database and trying to apply upgrades to them was a complete nightmare. I needed an solution that kept data and application separate, and a means of keeping physically remote versions of the application synchronised with any upgrades made centrally. At this stage I had no idea that these problems had already been solved by others before me.

Meanwhile, I became a masterclasser, and was given a laptop to use. By some wierd quirk of the purchasing and issue of these laptops, I was given full admin rights to the machine. This contrasts dramatically with the normal situation in East Lothian, where I don't have any rights to install software or customise settings at all. I took full advantage of these rights, and installed Mandrake Linux as a dual boot with windows on the machine.

This was the moment of revelation. Suddenly I had an operating system that was designed by the developers of open source software, and was therefore perfectly set up to facilitate such development. I played around and realised that what I needed was a web based application. I also discovered the wonders of version control. All (!!) I had to do was set up a database on a web server and then write scripts to build web pages from this database and create forms that would allow users to put data into the database. MySQL and PHP seemed to be best choice of database and scripting languages available at the time (in March 2003) so I bought a book (first version!) and got stuck in........

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