A new channel for teachers is about to launch ... but will they actually have time to watch it? Michael Shaw reports
The last impression that producers at Teachers' TV want to create is that they will be pumping 1984-style propaganda into teachers' homes.
So it is somewhat unfortunate that Britain's first government-created TV station is based in a building called Orwell House.
Staff at the station's modern offices near Oxford Circus will be busy this weekend making final preparations for Tuesday, when Stephen Twigg, school standards minister, will officially launch the digital channel.
Andrew Bethell, director of programming, is cautiously optimistic, pointing with boyish excitement at TV screens showing test broadcasts for the station which will be available on cable, satellite and Freeview.
Nearly all programmes for the channel's first week have been edited and are ready to air, with the exception of Teachers' TV News which will be put together hours before transmission on Thursday.
By the time the channel launches, it will have already filmed more than 500 teachers in 300 schools - and those figures will double in a matter of months.
"In terms of getting a slice of life in the education system, it is astonishing and there has never been anything like it," said Mr Bethell. "I cannot begin to imagine the number of pupils we have filmed."
He believes that Juggling for Success, the first full programme the channel will broadcast, is typical of its output. The 15-minute show examines how teachers at New Earswick primary school transformed pupils' behaviour by starting a juggling craze.
Carole Farrar, headteacher, is shown collapsing into giggles after saying, solemnly, that "most of the children have soft balls".
No doubt pupils and parents from the York school will tune in to the fledgling station, as may the families of the thousands of other children who have been filmed.
But who else is going to watch it? Producers say they are targeting England's 1.1 million teachers and governors, but hope it will gain a broader audience.
Around 40 per cent of Teachers' TV's programmes will be bought in from other stations including Channel 4 and the BBC.
Heather Rabbatts, managing director of Channel 4's education division 4Learning, said she felt positive about the new channel and did not see it as a competitor. "The issue for Teachers' TV is when teachers are going to watch it," she said. "They are very time-poor."
Producers at Teachers' TV will not comment on targets the Government has set them for minimum viewing figures, except to say that they are very low.
Some staff at the station believe it could outperform BBC4, although this seems unrealistic. The BBC arts channel, criticised for its low ratings, now attracts around 1.4m viewers a week.
Mr Bethell says that viewing figures are not all-important as the Government will be judging the channel on a range of other factors, most crucially whether featured good practice is picked up by schools.
Teachers' unions and education academics were initially sceptical about the station, which is editorially independent but funded by the Government at a cost of pound;20m a year.
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter university, wrote in The TES two years ago: "At its very worst imagine a channel that bombarded teachers 24 hours a day with propaganda about government initiatives, schemes of work and messages about the latest official targets.
"There could be giant screens in every playground with teachers chanting in unison: 'We will meet our targets'."
However, Professor Wragg has become more supportive of Teachers' TV. He is hosting two series. The first, called What If?, examines hypothetical scenarios in schools, while in the second, he interviews luminaries from the education world, such as Estelle Morris, the former education secretary.
The academic and TES columnist said: "It will take time for people to get used to it, but it is an absolute gift for teachers."
WHAT'S ON NEXT WEEK
* Teachers' TV News
A round-up of the latest educational news.
(Thursday 9pm, repeated Friday 12.30pm and 9.30pm, and Saturday 6.30pm and 9.30pm)
* Ofsted! The Musical
Excerpts from the hit show at last year's Edinburgh Festival which was written and produced by Hull university students (Wednesday 12.30am and midnight, Saturday 8pm)
* Ted Wragg meets David Bell The TES columnist and persistent critic of the Office for Standards in Education confronts the chief inspector.
(Tuesday 9.30pm and midnight, Wednesday 11.30pm, Saturday 8.30pm)
* School matters: Random drug testing
First in a series of documentaries about topical issues related to school improvement.
(Tuesday 6.30pm and 10.30pm, Wednesday 5am, Thursday 12.30am, 10 pm and midnight).
* Teaching with Bayley: Too much talk
Behaviour management guru John Bayley works with teachers to help them improve their technique.
(Tuesday 6.15pm and 11.45pm, Wednesday 5.45am, Saturday 7.45pm)
HOW CAN I WATCH TEACHERS' TV?
Teachers' TV begins broadcasting 24-hours-a day, seven days a week, on cable and satellite, on Tuesday.
The free channel will be available on Sky, NTL, Telewest, KIT and HomeChoice.
It will also be shown on Freeview, but only between midnight and 6am, when all the programmes are repeated.
Programmes will be divided into three zones - primary, secondary and general. Most programmes will last just 15 minutes.
Producers hope teachers will watch the channel at school during Inset days and training times, as well as at home.
Nearly all the programmes specially produced for the channel will be available to download from its website, which will also feature lesson plans and worksheets. Visit www.teacherstv.co.uk
Teachers and schools are being offered a range of discounts on cable subscriptions, including personal video recorders which automatically record the channel's programmes overnight. Details of the discounts can be found at www.get.teachers.tv
Full listings for Teachers' TV will appear from next week in TES Teacher magazine.