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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 February, 2005, 13:32 GMT
Lesson cameras training teachers
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter

Philip Harte monitors a teacher via the camera
Head teacher Philip Harte can monitor teachers via the camera
Philip Harte only has to click a button or move a joystick and the classroom is his.

Whatever he wants to see, he can - the teacher's facial expression, even the writing in a pupil's exercise book.

Mr Harte, a head teacher, has introduced CCTV cameras into lessons.

But he is not a "control freak" or a would-be educational Big Brother.

The camera, he believes, can truly become the teacher's best friend.

Since the start of the year, selected lessons at St George's, a comprehensive school in Salford, have been monitored to see how staff are performing in front of pupils.

One day, Mr Harte wants to compile a series of "masterclasses", where the best performers share their tricks of the trade, such as how to hold children's attention and ask the right questions.

'Do not disturb'

A microphone connected to the teacher's earpiece allows a watching panel of experts to control some of the events in a class - advising in the way a TV producer does a newsreader.

Philip Harte
You can speak to the teacher and ask him to ask a question to a member of the class
Philip Harte, head teacher
Mr Harte told BBC News: "It's brilliant. You can speak to the teacher and ask him to ask a question to a member of the class to see whether they have learned something.

"It also allows us to watch from outside the classroom, so we don't disturb what's going on in the lesson too much.

"When people think of CCTV they think of trying to curb bad behaviour in school.

"They don't think it can be used to develop teaching and learning."

A group of 13 and 14-year-olds, wearing the school's crimson blazer uniform, is having an English lesson, watched by Mr Harte.

Strong command

The teacher shows a strong command - moving to all corners of the room, engaging the children.

Mr Harte zooms in on one girl's book and sees she is working hard.

Teacher in class, on camera
The whole classroom is viewable
This teacher is good - an example to others - the sort who would be included on a video of "good practice".

So far the school has fitted up a single room with two cameras - one still, another mobile - but many of the 35 staff have had a go.

Deputy head Peter Fisher, a 24-year veteran of the teaching profession, is one.

He said: "It's very nerve-racking. I discovered something about my teaching style that I didn't know before.

"I found from the camera that I was ignoring the girl sitting to my right throughout the whole lesson.

"Because of the way I write I had had this blind-spot for 24 years of teaching. Maybe hundreds of children have been ignored."

Improvement

The cameras are part of St George's ongoing efforts to improve.

Janet Rowney
Teachers like to learn, as well as teach
Janet Rowney
school improvement officer
Four years ago, just 24% of its final-year pupils got five or more A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent.

By last summer the figure was 54%.

The school has an above-average proportion of children from deprived backgrounds among its 580 pupils.

Mr Harte has concentrated on improving teaching since took over four years ago.

Janet Rowney, senior school improvement officer for Salford, is a regular visitor.

She said: "Sports people have to keep training to improve and teachers are just the same. This is an innovative way to ensure that.

"Teachers like to learn, as well as teach."

St George's has been singled out for its excellence in maths and technology teaching.

On the sports field

Mr Harte wants to record some of the evidence.

The masterclasses will not just be straightforward videos, though. They will include graphics, bullet points and other modern techniques to speed up learning.

The classroom is not the limit of ambitions.

Mr Harte said: "As it stands, we can only record a lesson in there. What if there is one in a science lab or on the sports field?

"What we need are portable cameras and sound systems, so we can look at those too."

These, according to early plans, could be based on technology used in zoos to record the private lives of animals for research and education projects.

Mr Harte thinks internet video-streaming will allow link-ups with schools as far away as Australia.

He said: "It's all about raising standards. The technology is opening up so many opportunities to do that that we can't ignore it."


SEE ALSO:
Teachers' TV station takes to air
08 Feb 05 |  Education
Big Brother 'can help teachers'
03 Nov 04 |  Education


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