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I've discovered a whole new way to while away my holidays: long distance learning qualifications

Happy new year. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that I didn't spend my Christmas holidays working. I am now sufficiently advanced in my career to realise that marking 30 essays and frameworking a scheme of work does not make for a happy holiday. But rather than shooting out of the door the second the kids went, boxes of chocolates in hand, and galloping off to ensconce myself on my sofa, I adopted a considered approach. Sipping my wine-from-a-box left over from the staffroom end-of-term bash, I lingered smugly in my classroom, smug and safe in the knowledge that my bag would remain empty of work when I left.

Not that the holiday was entirely relaxing. I don't want you to think my two weeks passed in a blissful daze. I am still a teacher after all. I know I said I didn't work, but I only meant school work. I've discovered a whole new way to while away my holidays: long-distance learning qualifications.

It all started innocently enough. What young teacher doesn't want to improve their professional expertise, and how can you resist the seductive prospect of having course materials delivered to your door - studying without having to leave the sofa? At first, it seemed a harmless way to gain some knowledge, get a qualification, and still watch Pop Idol out of the corner of my eye while kidding myself I was working.

Having completed two long-distance learning qualifications last year, I have now embarked on my third, this time with the Open University. And in a sick way, I'm really enjoying it. It's relevant, interesting and, as I keep on telling my astonished husband, you only get out what you put into your career. "I don't think it counts if you die from overwork," he told me as we ordered another pizza while I was writing another essay. "But it's all so interesting," I tried to explain. He looked unconvinced at my latest pile of textbooks, videos and folders.

I've always been into extra-curricular improvement. Every September I buy the latest copy of Floodlight and enthusiastically sign myself up for another course on jewellery-making, ancient Greek, yoga or whatever. They never last. But my long-distance learning courses do. I've had to accept the sad fact that if it's about teaching, my interest and my motivation are maintained. If it's something I can do that's school related, especially in the holidays, perfect. What better way to fill those lonely hours when you could be socialising than to read yet another folder full of materials on "Special Needs and the Law in the 19th Century - how does it affect you?"

Brilliant. You never know when that might come in handy.

When my husband suggested a course called "Divorce and the Law - how does it affect you?" I got the message and reluctantly dragged myself around an exhibition with him. He thinks we need to get a puppy. I'm worried that a dog might chew up all my folders of reading material ("Dyslexia and Global Warming - is there a link?") and then how will I be able to fill out my course progress chart? I quite like the idea of recapturing my carefree student days, if only I could forget that I am also meant to be holding down a full-time job. "Inclusion in the World of Insects" anyone? I'm sure that'll come in handy at some point.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email:

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