Erika Bon, Associate Principal, St Joseph’s School, Takapuna

Pluto is an online programme that sorts classes based on teachers’ feedback, balancing things such as academic ability, friendship requests and special needs. It is the brain child of former teacher, Aucklander Leah Corbett, who came up with the idea to reduce back-to-school stress for pupils, parents and teachers.

Last year, in December 2016, after years of spending weeks deciding our class lists and the careful placement of students, we decided to try out Pluto, this digital programme for placing children.

The system allows teachers, after they have completed the names of all their students, to make suggestions as to who they should or shouldn’t be with, for the following year.

The programme allows for placement based on friendship with a section for “positive relationships,” and a section for “negative relationships” where the teacher can state not to place those students together, based on distractions or unsatisfactory interactions.

There is a section that includes National Standard data and ability, whether a student has behavioural problems, is ESOL or needs learning support, and also their ethnicity. This ensures there is a mix of abilities within each class.

Once students have been placed in a class, there is an opportunity for teachers to re-look at the placement and make changes as needed.

As the cursor runs over the names any selections are highlighted, for example blue if there are other students in the year level they relate well to and red highlights if not to be placed with certain students, providing a further check to make sure you have considered all aspects.

As with any programme it is only as good as the data provided and the thoroughness of the teachers in ensuring the right student is with the right people. Having followed this system and now working with these placements, we can see our data needed to be more specific in order to create a wider mix of students for both ability, gender and ethnicity.

When the data is in, only two or three teachers need to check the placement rather than whole teams needing to come together. And then a final check by all teachers is sufficient.

It certainly cut down hours of work, tweaking and re-placing students, and took away some of the emotional ties we have with the children. However, the personal touch is also missing and the sensitive information teachers have about a student and where they may be best placed is not included in the selection choices and although teachers do check, some students may slip through causing difficulties further down the track.

The programme definitely reduces the stress levels for staff at the end of a school year with so many other needs at that time, and for that reason I would recommend it to other schools.