THE BBC launches a new educational service at BETT next week, but it's not on radio or television. The Learning Station is a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year Internet "channel", dedicated to primary and secondary school teachers, pupils and parents. It stakes out the BBC's territory in advance of the proposed national grid for learning and provides an umbrella for the fast-growing collection of Web sites related to BBC Schools television and radio series.
Robin Mudge, the Learning Station's creative director, says that it will be more than a hi-tech means of delivering teachers' notes. "The philosophy behind this was to launch an Internet channel, the equivalent of a broadcast channel, within which there are strands covering each age group and subject area in primary and secondary education," he says.
"The contents are loosely coupled to the radio and TV series, but very highly aligned. But it's not just support material; everything is designed to exploit the unique advantages of the medium."
As well as the urge to innovate, there's also a policy to support important government initiatives. Both aims are met in the Learning Station's first primary resource, an interactive animated detective story, Spywatch. This builds on characters from the television series Look and Read and adds a range of activities - word games, story-writing exercises, printable worksheets, a spy club - in support of the National Literacy Project.
An equivalent numeracy site for primary children, Mega Maths, with downloadable exercises, is being developed.
There's a forum for people concerned with education, featuring a questions area and a guarantee that if a question is not already covered, an answer will be found from an expert within two days, e-mailed to the enquirer and posted on the site. Teachers can also find guides to BBC resources and 1,000 curriculum-related Web sites (that will be selected and vetted by a team of 48 teachers in Devon).
Further features will be added to the Learning Station through its first term. For example, a secondary site on the history of medicine, online conferences on curriculum topics, a live "chat show" for 16+ personal and social education, a feature about South Africa with live links to township schools, and a Spanish language area where children in English and Catalan schools co-operate in creating stories (in Spanish).
There will also be an after-school area designed to help children with homework - to include a GCSE revision package, Bite Size, offering students an "ask-a-teacher" problem-solving service - and an invitation to submit pupils' work for inclusion in what will become the "Children's Broadcasting Company", an open-ended Web-publishing area.
All the online services should be available via the same set-top box needed to receive the BBC digital television channels to be launched later this year - among them, the education network.
BBC Education stand C2