How to survive the staff crisis

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Inventive use of technology could help your school to cope with the teacher shortage, writes Peter Lacey.

Last term, schools and their education authorities sat down to discuss pupil performance targets for 2002. Surely, with booster classes, lunchtime coaching and performance management of teachers, more youngsters can now make the grade?

Surely, being in an action zone or receiving extra funding must make a difference? Targets for 2002 carry particularly high stakes as they will feed into the national targets for school improvement.

In north-east Lincolnshire, our track record has been encouraging. We are slightly ahead of our 1999 and 2000 targets, and our 2001 targets appear achievable. In 1999 we even raised our 2002 targets.

However, we are starting to falter. Schools are telling us that they no longer have enough teachers to deliver higher results. In secondaries we cannot find subject specialists. In some primary schools we are unable to find a body to stand up in front of a class.

We have arranged a conference with our schools, partners and stakeholders to map our way through this crisis. We already have strategies to attract teachers including establishing our own supply agency and exploring alternative routes into teaching, but that is not enough.

It will take time to attract people into teaching. Meanwhile, we need to ensure that the teacher supply crisis does not become a learning crisis.

New technology has a crucial part to play. In north-east Lincolnshire we have established the Open School Network, a partnership between the authority, Escon, a private educational software firm, and Immage 2000, a television company that transmits on our local cable network.

This partnership was set up to bring learning to a broader range of people - including those who had disengaged from it.

The network enables out-of-school learning for all. The education action zone is piloting Make the Grade - a package of interactive GCSE materials deliverd via the new network. Other schools and authorities are already buying this successful service.

Key lessons are shown on cable TV and video, and tutorials are available online, as are interactive tests, with step-by-step prompts and audio help.

Soon, pupils looking at science topics online will have the option of watching video clips from key lessons, as well as enhanced graphics, animations, and simulations.

Packages like Make the Grade could make teachers question how they use their time, and even change the way specialist teachers are deployed. Some schools, particularly those in the action zone, are developing interactive white-board technologies which, combined with video-conferencing, will allow expert teachers to teach classes at a distance.

A regional consortium of which this authority is a member, is moving quickly to build "broadband" links that can deliver teaching across schools. A number of homes in the action zone will also be provided with Internet access.

Schools and colleges are collaborating to provide a wider range of pupils with access to GCSE courses such as foreign languages, music and drama. The student's school pays a tuition fee to the host institution, and the authority pays for transport between sites.

Perhaps the time has come for a new category of "chartered teacher", a highly paid professional, skilled in the use of technologies, and who may not be attached to a particular school.

Here in north-east Lincolnshire, we are continuing to push the boundaries forward to meet the challenge of the recruitment crisis.

These are scary times because traditional learning patterns are under threat. However, our common commitment to learners is opening up new ways of doing things. With new technology, perhaps even a four-day-week of direct pupil-teacher contact might not be the end of the world.

Peter Lacey is deputy director of education in north-east Lincolnshire. Open School Network can be found at www.osn.co.uk


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