PUPILS in Essex and Glasgow have enrolled in a school that has no buildings, no timetable, no lunch breaks nor even the national curriculum.
They are participants in a unique experiment in online learning called Notschool.net. The pound;1.2 million project, funded by the Department for Education and Employment, is trying to create an affordable model of online learning for the estimated 100,000 British children who are too ill or disruptive to attend school.
The year-long initiative, which is managed by Anglia Polytechnic University's Ultralab research centre, began in September. It will soon have 100 students - 84 from Essex and 16 from Glasgow, mostly 14 and 15-year-ods. All have been referred by education welfare officers.
Notschool's partners include the Science Museum, Worldwide Fund for Nature, the BBC and the online website Think.com.
The project is already attracting considerable interest from local authorities and schools, as well as dozens of calls a week from "desperate" parents.
Even at this early stage it is clear that Notschool.net can change lives:
"Annie" is so ill she hardly leaves her bedroom and rarely speaks to her family. Since receiving her laptop with Internet access, she regularly sends messages to her parents and brothers. Her tutor said: "You can imagine how thrilled her folks are."