Switched on

17th February 2006 at 00:00
A television channel for teachers? Preposterous, said the cynics. But as Teachers' TV celebrates its first anniversary on air, Hilary Wilce finds that the doomsayers have been proved wrong

Paul Newbould does it online and finds it "invigorating". Heather Bovingdon does it while ironing. Slowly but surely, Teachers' TV is becoming a part of the lives of the nation's teachers.

When the channel launched a year ago, this seemed unlikely. There was widespread scepticism about the launch of a Whitehall-funded teachers'

television service. Many in the profession thought it would be a propaganda turn-off, and few imagined that teachers would want to watch programmes about teaching at the end of a working day.

But after the channel's first year on air, it is beginning to gather a following. In December, one in four of the schools' workforce who have cable or satellite, nearly 90,000 people, said they watched the channel.

Eight out of ten viewers in the schools workforce said that Teachers' TV programming had affected their personal motivation, and more than half said they were likely to implement the content of Teachers' TV programmes in their schools. More than 55,000 programmes a month are being either downloaded or viewed from the Teachers' TV website, where more than 800 programmes are now archived. Overseas interest is growing, more schools are using programmes for training, and audiences now include parents and pupils.

"We're definitely starting to be aware of it and to keep an eye out for what's on," says Heather Bovingdon, a speech and language therapist at St Nicholas special school in Canterbury, Kent. "I sometimes look at it when I've got the ironing out late at night."

"At my school, it varies across the staff," says Paul Newbould, a Year 1 teacher at Minchinhampton primary in Stroud, Gloucestershire. "Some are sceptical, some are keen, and some are just beginning to see what it has to offer. I think people appreciate the quality of programmes, and the way they are real fly-on-the-wall stuff."

As a Teachers' TV "associate" he is primed to say nice things - any teacher can sign up to spread the word about Teachers' TV in exchange for a package of previews and invitations - but his enthusiasm is genuine enough for him to have adapted one programme to use for training, and to wax enthusiastic about getting sidetracked into watching programmes about teaching philosophy in secondary schools. "The world it opens up is immense. It allows teachers to take control over their own professional development like never before."

"Its ace card is that people love looking into other people's classrooms,"

says John Bayley, a behaviour management guru. "They love seeing how things can be done. It's all about sharing the craft."

His own series, Teaching With Bayley, is one of the channel's most popular programmes, and watching him film it at Hove Park school in Hove, an 11 to 18 language college, it is easy to see why. Mr Bayley watches teachers in the classroom, then helps them tackle problems. Today, however, he is watching science teacher Andrew Latham, who last autumn won the south-east regional secondary teacher award in the National Teaching Awards, for a programme showcasing teaching skills.

First, Mr Latham is filmed teaching Year 11 groups about planets and comets. A two-person film crew moves around the classroom with a camera and sound boom, but nobody takes much notice. The students are used to being videoed, and have been told the crew is making a training film. Afterwards Mr Bayley and Mr Latham have an on-camera discussion about the morning. Mr Latham is aware that energy flagged at one point, and says he's considering introducing a wake-up activity. Mr Bayley is interested in a one-to-one talk Mr Latham had with a floundering pupil.

In the afternoon, they will continue the conversation, and Mr Bayley thinks he will explore ideas of how to increase pupil participation. With a high-energy professional such as Andrew Latham, he says, there is always the danger of pupils sitting back and letting the teacher do the work. It's fascinating, serious, professional stuff about the nitty-gritty of classroom life - and a rich seam which Teachers' TV is now mining. "The thought of programmes about continuing professional development is unappealing, but a large percentage of what we do is good to watch," says Andrew Bethell, director of programmes. "Teaching with Bayley is an innovative model. Nothing is set up or fake."

He is also proud of the way the channel's news coverage is respected and watched by opinion-formers. "And the fact we used (the late) Ted Wragg so regularly put paid to any idea we were a government mouthpiece."

Nigel Dacre, chief executive, says: "This is the first time the Government has launched a digital television channel, and the first time there's been a channel for a professional group. I think we're doing very well. "

Teachers' TV costs about pound;20 million a year to run, and government funding is secure until August 2008; ways of generating revenue from programme sales and advertising are currently being piloted. At the channel's first birthday party last week, Sir Paul Judge, chairman of the independent board, claimed that with the teachers' pay bill nationally standing at pound;20 billion, Teachers' TV was proving a "very cost effective" form of training - only 0.1 per cent of the pay bill, equivalent to pound;2.50 per teacher per programme watched.

Ten per cent of the operating consortium is owned by London University's Institute of Education; deputy director Barbara MacGilchrist says Teachers'

TV is "switched on 247 in our entrance foyer at Bedford Way" and that students are strongly recommended to watch it. In the coming year Teachers'

TV aims to keep things fresh by using teachers' own films, and getting pupils to film and question teachers.

"We want teachers to feel the channel is their own," says Andrew Bethell.

"But the biggest goal for 2006 is to have more impact in schools. It's not yet as common as it should be. We want to see the channel become an embedded part of the training strategy."

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