Half of teachers believe that when they are absent their pupils could be left to work on computers under the supervision of a classroom assistant.
The finding comes from a survey of 500 teachers by CompTIA, the trade association for the IT industry, using questions suggested by The TES.
Researchers for CompTIA were surprised at how evenly split teachers were on the issue. Half agreed with the statement: "IT could be used in schools to keep pupils occupied, under the supervision of a teaching assistant, when a teacher is absent or ill."
But the level of support for using computers as substitute teachers may not be fully representative of the profession as a whole. The teachers surveyed were all delegates at BETT, the annual trade show for educational computer resources.
The majority of teachers questioned admitted that there were often occasions when they did not understand some computing systems as well as their pupils.
But the survey found that 78 per cent felt IT should continue to be taught separately, even though schools are supposed to be integrating it across the curriculum.
This view supports the Tomlinson inquiry into 14 to 19 education, which proposed that computer skills should be taught separately.
Many schools already use programs which allow pupils to work independently, with minimum input from teaching staff.
TAG Learning designed its Maps program, an electronic portfolio system, for IT teachers to use with their key stage 3 pupils.
The company claims pupils at one school were able to continue their work after their IT teacher became ill because the system contains pre-programmed tasks.
Michael Fullan, an expert on educational change at Toronto university, said he was unconcerned about fears that computers would replace teachers. "The kind of teacher who is afraid that they are going to be replaced by a computer should be," he said.