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Essential viewing

Robin Buss looks at a new television channel launching next week which aims to lighten the load for teachers

After years of planning and months of rumours, Teachers' TV will go on air from next Tuesday. Just like film buffs, sports fans and children, teachers will get their own channel, but the emphasis will be on professional development rather than entertainment.

Not only does Teachers' TV have official approval, it is the brainchild of Richard Graham, head of communication at the DfES, who came up with the idea some three years ago. Though the original idea came from within the DfES, the channel is being run by an independent consortium. It will be available on digital, satellite and cable, as well as overnight on Freeview.

"More homework", you might think, contemplating an evening of national curriculum guidelines. Actually, the idea is to make the load lighter, not to increase it, and the response from teachers to the pilot project has been positive.

This is not schools' broadcasting, but support, advice and, hopefully, inspiration for classroom teachers. Programming has been designed to make things as simple as possible for the viewer who has spent a day with 4B.

The output is divided into three "zones": primary, secondary and general.

The first two are self-explanatory, while the last contains programmes such as Teaching With Bayley - one of the channel's flagship shows.

In it, behaviour consultant and former teacher John Bayley watches teachers at work and suggests ways in which their teaching strategies could be improved.

Director of programmes is Andrew Bethell, a teacher who left the profession after 18 years to set up his own production company. His company Double Exposure has become one of the country's leading independent producers of educational programmes and he describes Teachers' TV as "the job of my dreams".

He admits that, initially, Channel 4 was "very suspicious" of the new channel's possible encroachment on 4Learning's territory. But Teachers' TV is not designed to compete with 4Learning or BBC Schools in making films for use in the classroom. What teachers will get is help with the times before and after they meet their students: planning lessons and devising teaching strategies, and analysing what might be done better. "The bottom line is that we're addressing the teacher with programmes about the craft of teaching," says Andrew Bethell.

There will also be educational news and debates on issues such as random drug-testing. Most of all, Andrew hopes, watching this dedicated channel will "raise enthusiasm". He was particularly pleased with a comment from someone who saw the pilot for the channel who said it reminded them why they had gone into teaching in the first place.

Teachers' TV looks like a very helpful initiative, but there will be problems with access. It will be freely available to existing digital and cable subscribers 24 hours a day, and available on Freeview during the night. However, teachers who don't have a set-top box or are not already signed up to subscriber services will probably not be so keen to pay pound;50 or more just to watch the new channel. You can get a free taster, though, by visiting www.teachers.tv and once programmes have been broadcast they will be available to watch online.

* Teachers' TV will be available from Tuesday, February 8

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