14th March 2003 at 00:00
There are places and times that are best avoided by those who value life and limb. The town of Pompeii on 24 August AD 79 was one. A mixed-ability class of 13-year-olds last period on a Friday is another, particularly if their regular teacher is off sick and you have to stand in at short notice.

But Aileen Monaghan is taking it in her stride.

Twenty youngsters sit attentively in the music department at King's Park Secondary School, Glasgow, while Ms Monaghan spends a few moments figuring out where the class has got up to and which resources she was using. It's a time when opportunities for mayhem abound. But this class is not taking them.

One reason, it soon emerges, is that Ms Monaghan is a natural teacher with an infectious love of music, who is able to catch and hold youngsters'

attention without effort. One of the Becta judges described her as a "musical whirlwind" and it's a good analogy - up to a point. It captures her energy and drive, as well as the calmness at the centre of it all. But what it fails to convey is Ms Monaghan's clear sense of purpose and direction.

"Teaching is not going to be the same job in the future, because a lot of the time we'll be facilitators," she says. "Children have much more knowledge than we give them credit for - a massive bank of knowledge unique to each of them."

Ms Monaghan came to King's Park as head of the music department two years ago, since when she has completely rewritten the syllabus, bringing ICT to the heart of learning and teaching. She describes the new syllabus as open, varied and constantly changing, and admits that it can be tricky to get the right balance between familiarity, which reassures a teacher, and novelty which stimulates a child.

The Becta judging panel were particularly impressed by the "huge range of ICT applications" being used in Ms Monaghan's department, and the way these are deployed to make music accessible to all pupils, irrespective of learning style or natural aptitude. The judges also commented on the improved exam results and the increase in numbers opting to study music since her arrival.

"Before I came here I remember getting really excited about a CD writer that had just arrived in school," she remembers. "I was telling everybody how the kids would soon be creating their own music, recording it on CDs, and taking them home to their mums and dads, saying: 'Listen - this is my music.' The maths teacher just looked at me and said in a deadpan voice:

"And thenI they comeI to maths.'

"It doesn't have to be like that, because you can use ICT to motivate kids in any subject. But even if it is, that's just tough. We have done our time trying to teach boring old songs with a boring old record-player in the corner. It's music's turn."

Douglas Blane

"Listening to Alastair is like drinking from a fire hose," someone remarked. A compliment? Certainly - you are refreshed, soaked even, but you don't forget. Alastair Wells, head of ICT at Netherhall School, Cambridge, is a force of nature: big, funny, a great raconteur and full of wisdom.

Why does he love ICT? "We have moved into the digital age, a re-engineering of education is going on and ICT is at the heart of it. I just enjoy the pace of work, the quality, the resources, the motivation, the control. But above all, it's the buzz that you get with the kids."

Alastair cautions against following industry trends. You don't visit him to see state of the art; rather what can be done with limited resources. "The industry is always re-inventing itself and reinventing new materials and ways of marketing products," he says. "We can't do that in schools. We have to look at what is usable and can run for a sustainable length of time.

"However, you do have to evolve. You can experiment with PDAs (personal digital assistants) and wireless, and if they are effective you can bring them in. Essentially, planning has to be long term."

Practising what he preaches, his room and the school network is built up from Acorns, PCs, Macs, network computers and portable Psion NetBooks.

But it is the teaching at Netherhall that is really special. "The discrete teaching of ICT is not going to bring on the whole school's staff. It allows staff to say that someone else is delivering ICT. That is dangerous and negative. Our staff are keen to deliver ICT in their subjects and are willing to do joint projects.."

Alastair wants to maximise the use of computers in the home through a virtual learning environment: "Pupils work without disks in school so they have to use the internet to send their work home. They have to log on to retrieve it. All this is done through Oracle's Think.com; we use it as a managed service that costs us nothing." Pupils without home computers have access at lunchtime and after school and communicated with staff online.

Although Alastair is technically adept, he believes that the issues facing teachers are not the technology: "It is about raising standards through online learning and ICT in the classroom. We have to make sure that all staff and pupils are fully aware of the possibilities."

Jack Kenny

Tips for teachers

* A wide range of technologies need to be integrated for effective online learning

* Appropriate choices of technology need to be made to ensure fitness for purpose

* Technology needs to be applicable across the curriculum

* Technology needs to be easy to use with minimum training required



Keith is a geography teacher at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, Birmingham

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