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E-teaching: how it works

Pressure is growing on teachers to store lesson plans and pupils' marks on electronic databases run by their schools.

Although only a minority of schools are now using "learning platforms", the Department for Education and Skills wants all schools to have them in the next two years. It has set schools a deadline to provide every pupil with an "online personal learning space" by 20072008 and is allocating more than pound;40 million to fund them.

Early adopters of the technology believe it makes teachers' work easier as they can store and share worksheets, markbooks, lesson plans and interactive materials for their classes such as video clips and whiteboard games.

Pupils are given folders which they can access online from outside school to save work and view files created by their teachers 24-hours a day. But there are concerns the systems could increase teachers' workload in the short-term and give parents too much access to information.

At King Harold school in Waltham Abbey, Essex, teachers in ICT, science and maths have been using a learning platform for three years and the system is gradually being adopted by other members of staff.

Malcolm Burnett, business development manager and IT teacher, said the system saved him time because he could get the computer to mark worksheets pupils had filled in itself rather than leaving him doing it manually.

"They are just a great big place to put stuff in," he said. "First of all they are a tool for teachers."

Mr Burnett said the school had opted for a softly-softly approach with the technology, encouraging teachers to try it and see how it could help them rather than making them undergo training.

However, teachers in at least one school have already contacted local authority and government officials to complain about being forced to use it.

The technology has also had a mixed response in further education, where it has been widely adopted yet attracted little interest from many college lecturers.

Educational computer firm RM, which produces the Kaleidos learning platform, said it was important to learn from mistakes in the FE sector.

Tim Pearson, chief executive, said: "They are going to be vital to the future of education. But using them is going to be a big jump for teachers, far bigger than the introduction of electronic whiteboards."

Schools are also being encouraged to link their learning platforms to their pupil information and attendance systems and to make them accessible to parents.

Teachers will need to decide how much information should be available to families, which could range from a child's attendance at that day's lessons to results for every piece of homework.

Other pitfalls include: schools may train their staff in using one system and put work on it, only to be informed that they should use a different one by their local authority or regional broadband consortium, the organisations which will be distributing the Government funding.

The DfES, which sees learning platforms as crucial to its drive to "personalise" education, has published a pair of handbooks at:

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