Website offers schooling hope

24 May 01
A pilot project using Internet technology to educate children who are not attending school has produced impressive results and is set to be rolled out across the country.

25 May 2001, an on-line learning community, has signed up 100 children from Glasgow, Essex and Suffolk who have been out of mainstream schooling for a long time due to exclusion, illness, phobia, pregnancy or other reasons.

In the two years the project has been running, 95% of the children have remained active members and almost 50% have achieved at least one formal qualification, such as a GCSE or City & Guilds certificate.

Now Ultralab, a consortium overseeing notschool, including Anglia University and the Department for Education and Employment, which sponsored the research, plans to expand the scheme to 5,000 children across the country in the next academic year.

It hopes that local education authorities across the country will sign up.

Professor Stephen Heppell, a member of the DfEE standards taskforce and Ultralab's director of learning, said the findings could offer a lifeline to many more children.

'Notschool could benefit the many children that school doesn't fit. In the future it could help children in custody, children who are at school but being taught separately, and many others besides,' he said.

'This also qualifies as 100% full-time education, which will be a statutory requirement for all local education authorities in England and Wales to provide from September 2002. It could work well as a solution for them.'

The notschool project leaders have deliberately abandoned the language of the classroom – pupils are called researchers and teachers are called experts, while university students have been recruited to act as mentors.

Ultralab gives each child their own computer when they sign up. They work under supervision on projects through the website, downloading learning materials and asking advice from on-line experts.

Notschool is 'asynchronous', meaning that there are no timetables and experts and mentors can be reached through the website 24 hours a day.

A DfEE spokeswoman welcomed the results of the pilot project. 'We are keen to look at possible ways of helping vulnerable children reach their full potential and remain part of the education system as far as possible,' she said.

A Local Government Association spokeswoman said the scheme was a good way of reaching children unable to attend school, but warned that attendance at traditional lessons should still be the ideal.

She said: 'Technology should not be seen as an alternative to the classroom, especially when not all homes have access to it.'


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