Probably one of the most remarkable developments on the Internet is teachers creating their own websites to share their work with others. Many of these sites have moved far beyond the school brochure online approach and are richer and more stimulating than some of the authorised sites that have had considerable amounts spent on them.
Chantel Evans Mathias has created the FRET (Free Resources for English Teachers) site. Before teaching, she had many jobs. She has just completed two years teaching English at Sir Thomas Picton School in Haverfordwest. Also in Wales, Teresa and Hastings McKenzie are a couple who believe strongly in the principle of free shared resources. Hastings is the "technical" half of the husband and wife team. Teresa is the "content" half, providing the essential expert knowledge to keep English Resources a relevant, professional site. She teaches at Lliswerry High School, Newport.
Mark Robinson has won many awards for the site based on his work at Ambleside. Peter Hughes is the driving force behind the comprehensive Kevin's Playroom site and teaches at Cumberland School, an inner city comprehensive in the London Borough of Newham. Andrew Field and Liza Shannon work at Neale-Wade Community College, March, Cambridgeshire. Both are in their second year of teaching and have created sites around their subjects - history and music.
How do any of them find time? Most admit that the initial work was hard but, once their basic structure was established, they found it comparatively easy to add new resources. Andrew Field used Microsoft Front Page and started during the holidays. Mark Robinson spends now less than an hour of his own time as he works with pupils throughout the day on the site.
The impulse that teachers have to share is the key. Evans Mathias speaks for most: "The simple idea is that teachers share their teaching resources and ideas and save time reinventing the wheel. Indeed, I see the Web as a brilliant filing system - the best that we could ask for."
Hughes feels the same and argues that his work has benefited the school. "Work on the site has helped promote the use of the Internet throughout the school," he explains. "One of the main sections, study support, has all the main study sites on it and these have been used by our pupils over the last year. Our schools exam results have drastically improved, we feel, partly due to the use of these sites. The school has received tremendous publicity through the site and pupils are asking to be part of the team."
Sometimes the audience is teachers, sometimes pupils. Field wanted to create a site where pupils could visit and easily find material on the Internet to allow them to build on their initial classwork." If a topic, for example World War I, interested a pupil, he or she could use the library or home access to the Internet and find further interesting and, importantly, suitable material. I decided to categorise links into the year groups where they are usually studied - but I decided to try and provide links for all national curriculum topic areas - not just ones currently taught at school."
Liza Shannon is convinced that sites like hers are particularly useful and have qualities that official sites do not possess: "I believe that if a teacher creates an educational website it can be orientedmore at their own teaching and needs of the pupils. As we are in constant contact with pupils, we know what activities work, and which we feel are less successful.
"Pitching lessons at the right level varies across the country, and if you are in this environment every day, I think you are probably more aware of this."
So what can teachers gain from these sites? Both Shannon and Evans Mathias are clear. They emphasise that the sites are free and not protected by passwords. They also stress the two-way interactive nature of the sites. Shannon says: "I provide free schemes of work, worksheets and Internet links that will help students research and study, as well as online interactive games. My site guides students through different areas of study - as outlined for each year group - and allows them to have access to worksheets used in class. Not all have computers at home but many can get Internet access at schools and libraries. For teachers my site saves them time and allows them to download free copies of worksheets. It also gives teachers the opportunity to see how someone else writes schemes of work."
There are lessons for some of the "approved" sites. The McKenzies point out that they "update frequently and ensure that all the resources are only a couple of clicks away. We have also worked hard to produce as professional looking a site as we can on our budget, while keeping it free of gimmicks. In addition, we don't believe in asking for anything, including personal information, in return for the resources because they have been very kindly and voluntarily supplied."
The great thing about the Internet is that you cannot suppress people like these, so if anyone feels that they are drowning in bland super productions they can turn to these individual sites. "Every school website I visit is an inspiration," points out Mark Robinson. "I believe children and teachers need to see that effective ICT is not simply about using a selection of applications but is about making unique and creative use of computers, programming and, particularly, the new communication methods offered by the Web. I believe we are in real danger of creating a generation of office workers unless teachers start to make use of the most radical and wide ranging communication advance since the printed word."
There are many others throughout the country doing work just as good. Above all, these teachers, with their own money and time, demonstrate a generosity of spirit and the pure impulse to share that many feared had been lost.
Jack Kenny is a freelance writer and chair of examiners for English for one of the major GCSE examining boards
Liza Shannon - Music at school
Chantel Evans Mathias - Free Resources for English Teaching
Andrew Field - interactive history quizzes, downloadable worksheets and categorised internet links
A site allowing key stage 3 pupils to research and learn about the Norman Conquest.
Peter Hughes - Kevin's Playroom
Mark Robinson - Ambleside
Hastings and Teresa McKenzie - English resources