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Formal teaching in slippers

Imagine a school where teachers turn up for work in their pyjamas, and poor behaviour by a pupil never disrupts classmates.

This is a reality in the growing number of "virtual schools" - and increasing numbers of teachers are applying to work in them.

At Accipio Learning, an online school with 40 teachers and about 550 pupils attending live, formal lessons over the internet, 400 people responded to a recent newspaper advertisement for a teacher in just two days. An online notice brought in 200 applications.

At notschool.net, which has a network of "online facilitators" to help 14- to 16-year-olds create their own syllabus, a box full of job applications arrives every week.

Jean Johnson, its chief executive, said: "Our staff enjoy working one-to-one. A lot of them say this is how they hoped it would be when they first taught in the classroom."

Eileen Field, the headteacher of Accipio Learning, said: "Many of those who apply have years of experience and love working with young people, but they want to be rid of some of the nonsense and initiatives of normal school life."

Unions have warned teachers to be wary about pay and conditions offered by online schools. But staff at the privately run Accipio, which is based at Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire and has pupils in about 50 local authorities in England and Wales, are paid "largely in line" with standard teachers' terms. They follow a structured school day, but do not have to leave home.

Their pupils are all unable to access conventional education for a variety of reasons, such as illness, being a Traveller or an offender.

Jacqueline Daniell, director of the 90-pupil InterHigh online school, said teachers were drawn to the sector because it gave them freedom to teach the subject they were trained for, away from the pressures of the classroom.

Fiona Assersohn, 42, a teacher at Accipio, said her online classroom also allowed her to "switch off" pupils who were misbehaving, so they cannot interact with the rest of the class.

"There's no breaking up fights, no dinner duty, and you can't prejudge pupils on appearance. I feel I know the pupils I teach online better than the ones I taught in normal schools," said Ms Assersohn.

"And there are also many occasions when I don't get dressed until five in the afternoon."

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