Today, class, I'm teaching you from my lounge

7th December 2007 at 00:00
If there is one profession that might be expected not to join the 21st century fad for working from home, surely it is teaching? How can you handle a rowdy or vulnerable class by email?

But even doctors are able to make diagnoses over the internet, with the wonders of video-conferencing.

And now Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham is experimenting with remote teaching, from around school, or even from home.

Stephan Collishaw, head of English, has video-streamed GCSE lessons from the comfort of his dining room, wearing a woolly jumper rather than a suit and tie.

He hopes to see most of the school's 12 English teachers giving lessons from home in the coming year, probably with teaching assistants "keeping order" in the class.

"English teachers love talking about poetry, but when you're in school, you spend half your time worrying about discipline," he said. "This way, I can be sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea."

Professor Stephen Heppell, education technology expert and Government adviser, said more than one in 10 teachers would be working from home within five years.

This forecast was greeted with some trepidation by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. "It is our belief that the best teaching is done in the age-old way - with a teacher in a room with the children," a spokesman said.

Emerging technologies could be fun and interesting, he said, but it was important that lessons were high quality and well supervised.

Sanjesh Sharma, an assistant principal at Djanogly, said that within the next two years teachers in other faculties would be splitting their time between work and home.

Speaking at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust national conference in Birmingham, he said it made sense that a French teacher should be based in France.

He said afterwards that e-working would provide greater flexibility, especially for part-time staff and those with family commitments.

"As a profession, teaching is so far behind the worlds of commerce and business, where people already work from home a lot," he said.

Djanogly teachers can select up to four classes anywhere in the school and "project" lesson information to screens or tablet PCs in the room. If a regular member of staff is absent, another teacher can act as a remote substitute.

But home-working poses unique challenges for schools, which are legally responsible for the safety and well-being of their pupils.

John Bangs, education officer for the National Union of Teachers, said parents expect, when they send their children to school, that they will be safe and supervised all day.

"Schools are unique, vibrant communities, made up of real people: kids, teachers, support staff and even parents," he said. "You cannot substitute that for a virtual environment."

But Professor Heppell said that one in nine adults in southern England already worked from home, so it was important to expose today's pupils to e-working.

At www.notschool.net, the online school he helped set up in 2000, the teachers work remotely, some from as far away as New Zealand.

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