Sawtry Community College takes biometrics into the dining room

Sawtry Community College has installed a customised Point of Sale catering solution from Toshiba and Datasym using a unique method of student and staff fingerprint sign-on supplied by Aufait Systems that has enabled the college to improve its catering services.


When Sawtry Community College took the decision to reduce its two three-quarter of an hour lunch breaks to one break lasting an hour, it needed to be sure it could provide a fast, efficient catering service capable of serving its 1,500 students in the reduced time period.

The Challenge

The college had been using a POS system linked to a smart card scheme. Whilst this solution overcame the stigma associated with receiving free school meals, it was causing problems for students, parents and staff within the catering department of the college. Students were losing, damaging or defacing the cards, and at a cost of 2.50 each, the cards were proving expensive for parents to replace. A large number of students were still paying by cash and with only one of the four tills accepting cash, big queues were forming at the till. With further problems associated with the robustness of the card readers, Sawtry took the decision to invest in a new solution that would improve the speed and efficiency of the lunchtime period, whilst at the same time provide essential management information for menu and budget planning.

The Solution

The new solution comprised Datasym.PoS software with fingerprint sign-on using Toshibas latest state-of- the art ST-71 touch-screen terminals, supplied by Aufait Systems.

The system works by students and staff uploading money on their accounts either before school or during the morning break. At morning break and lunchtime, when they come to make a purchase, they simply sign on to the Toshiba tills with their fingerprint via a device attached to the terminal. Students and staff members fingerprints are pre-programmed onto the till, and for added security photo identification appears on the ST-71 touch-screen to visually confirm the ID of each student / staff member. The catering operative uses the touch-screen to select the menu/snack choices and the transaction is then automatically deducted at the PoS from the students /staff members individual account, if required a receipt can be issued to see the remaining account balance.

Explaining the reason for the move to the new system, Helen Mouland, Sawtry Community College Catering Manager, said; We were originally thinking of using an updated smart card to replace the old system. When I approached Aufait Systems, who had supplied me in the past, I was not aware of this new fingerprint technology. We selected Aufait Systems as they were able to meet all our requirements for a solution - a fast, efficient system that was fit for the purpose, would save costs and one which the students would be unable to deface.

For a smooth transition, all users fingerprints and photographs were taken and programmed onto the Toshiba terminals prior to the start of term in September 2006.

The Benefits

With the introduction of the new Toshiba / Datasym PoS system lunch queues at the college have reduced considerably.

Parents now have more visibility on what their child is doing with their lunch money.  Receipts are given for money placed on each childs accounts, which can be sent directly to parents, enabling them to check that the money is being used for school meals. Unlike the previous smart card system, parents can also be issued with itemised bills, allowing them to see exactly what their children are eating for lunch.

As students can obtain a receipt following each transaction it is simple for them to keep a track of the balance of their accounts, teaching the children responsibility for managing their money.

The Toshiba / Datasym solution also provides a unique facility for children on Free School Meals. Unlike the previous system, children can now top up their free allowance with their own money. The system will automatically deduct the free daily allowance first, allowing them to use their own purse for purchasing additional snacks etc.

Catering staff can also use the system to highlight specific students allergies, such as wheat. At the point of purchase these would automatically be flagged up on the Toshiba touchscreen to ensure that children avoid any unsuitable meal choices.

Commenting on staff use of the new system, Helen Mouland said, I have been in catering for 15 years and was concerned about a new system and how my staff would feel about using new technology. I am happy to say my fears were unfounded, the new Toshiba ST-71 touch screens are very easy for catering staff to navigate and much easier than the previous smart card tills.

Looking at the broader benefits the new technology has brought to the college, Alan Stevens, Associate Principal said, Parents have more confidence in putting money on this system as they feel it is more secure than the previous smart card scheme. The system has also increased the use of the canteen facility as the children are not able to go elsewhere, as they dont have the cash to spend.

An added benefit has been one of educational value, Alan explains, We also use Toshiba laptops throughout the school and this latest Toshiba PoS technology enables pupils to see the impact of ICT in a live environment. In fact we are planning to use the Toshiba PoS as a case study for our A level students demonstrating the impact of ICT on technology in the workplace.

Plans for the Future

Sawtry Community College has extensive plans for the future use of the new system. The first enhancement due to be introduced in the near future is to place a limit on the amount of daily spend, for individual students, in response to a request from parents.

Helen Mouland also plans to use the system for improved efficiencies, for example reports, showing exactly what has been sold, providing invaluable information for menu-planning and monitoring wastage. Commenting on this aspect Helen says, Datasym (UK)s software offering has some very powerful options, including menu ingredient and costs analysis and full stock control enabling me to reduce wastage and improve the overall catering management function."

Another future plan being considered by the college is to allow parents to pay on the internet, removing the need to send in cheques to the school or for students to carry cash. Moving forward Alan Stevens, foresees using the Toshiba PoS solution as part of its educational approach to healthy eating. By linking the system with the schools intranet via a protected password, parents would be able to keep an eye on their childs eating habits.

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