High hopes for those who log on and learn

24th August 2007 at 01:00
AN ONLINE school which caters for hundreds of pupils who are unable to work in conventional classrooms is expected to be one of the success stories of this week's GCSE results.

Accipio the Latin for "I receive" was set up in 2003 and boasts good GCSE passes from pupils who might otherwise emerge from compulsory education with no qualifications.

Its pupils log on for lessons from a variety of locations. Some are unable to attend school for medical reasons, including transplant and cancer patients. They work from computers in hospitals or at home.

Others are in young offenders' institutions, in pupil referral units or are travellers.

Teachers lead the virtual lessons from home, using a microphone to direct each class of up to 15. Pupils are hooked up to a microphone and can answer when called upon by the teacher.

The lesson screen features a whiteboard area where learning materials can be placed. The teacher can also guide pupils to useful websites. They are able to send the teacher and other pupils messages in real time.

The school operates four days a week for 36 weeks of the year, offering all the subjects of a conventional secondary. The fifth day of the week is a "drop-in" day, when teachers are available online to answer pupils' queries.

The school works with 60 local authorities. Each pays about pound;8,000 to allow 10 pupils to log in for lessons for a year.

It claims a GCSE C or better rate of 21 per cent. Though well below the national average of 62 per cent, this seems impressive given that pupils are only entered for foundation tier papers, which come with C as the highest possible mark.

A spokeswoman for the school said: "All of the students are likely at some point to have thought that they might never get GCSEs, so getting GCSEs, particularly in the core subjects, is a real achievement."

The school also seems popular with teachers. Recently, it placed an advertisement in The TES for staff and received 360 replies, said Eileen Field, the headteacher and one of the five co-founders.

Professionals, she said, were attracted to the idea of making a difference to disaffected children, to the reduced paperwork and to the greater control over discipline: if a pupil acted up, it was simple to switch off their microphone.

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