Home-study plans revealed for students

CLASSROOM lessons could be turned on their head by a Suffolk headteacher who is equipping his pupils with portable computers so they can study from home.

CLASSROOM lessons could be turned on their head by a Suffolk headteacher who is equipping his pupils with portable computers so they can study from home.

Nearly all sixth formers at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds now have laptop computers and the Year 11 - fifth form - students are now being equipped so that hundreds of pupils can study away from school.

Soon, according to headteacher Geoff Barton, pupils at the school will be able to learn using so-called conference classes - where students can liaise with both other children and their teachers from home or elsewhere.

The idea was yesterday called “revolutionary” and described as “offering the best of both worlds” by Ali Willer, East Anglian spokeswoman for Education Otherwise, an organisation that supports home learning for children across the UK.

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But the National Union of Teachers called for caution over the use of portable computers from home, claiming that pupils ran the risk of going “off task” in their studies.

The King Edward VI School headteacher said home-working was a skill he wanted his pupils to have because remote working was becoming increasingly common in the workplace.

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Mr Barton, whose school was ranked “good” by Ofsted inspectors just ten weeks ago, said: “Our view is that the future is mobile and that is what we are exploring.

“I don't think we will ever have empty classrooms, but I do think that the classrooms we will see in the near future will be unrecognisable. We are talking about more flexible spaces.”

He said that remote learning would only be viable for students who proved they had the self-discipline to study effectively outside the strict confines of the standard school day.

Mr Barton added: “Some students who have the necessary self control and discipline will be able to learn from home.”

Already, Year 11 students at the 1,300-pupil school are notching an average of 14 hours a week using a computer-based learning system operated at the school called SAM Learning.

The 325 students have done, in total, more than 4,000 hours of work using the internet-based system, of which 62% has been done outside of school hours.

Martin Goold, Suffolk's division secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said computers offered “lots of exciting possibilities” to both students and teachers.

But he also warned of potential problems with over dependence on remote learning: “I think it is very important to be able to have the inspiration of the teacher there in class and the teacher's being able to deal with a child's learning needs.

“It is very often the case where children are using IT that they go off task more than when they are sitting in class. I think we need to be very, very careful.”

The potential of new technology is also being exploited at Samuel Ward Upper School and Technology College in Haverhill where students use electronic conferencing to speak with experts based outside Suffolk.

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