Andrew Cunningham: E-mailteacher@home is a nightmarish idea

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The Independent Online

In a move that could have every teacher in Britain reaching for the Valium, the DfES plans to encourage children to email their teachers out of school hours, to help with last-minute revision and homework queries in the evenings and at weekends.

In a move that could have every teacher in Britain reaching for the Valium, the DfES plans to encourage children to email their teachers out of school hours, to help with last-minute revision and homework queries in the evenings and at weekends.

The idea sounds fine at first. Some anxious parents may see it as the solution to their nightmares. No more having to help with GCSE maths or English coursework: a quick email to Sir or Miss will do nicely instead. But anyone who's ever been stuck in a classroom with teenagers for hours on end will know that it's essential to get a break from them sometimes.

In fact, the sure knowledge that you'll be free of 4C at the end of the school day can be the only thing that keeps a teacher sane. If this new scheme is successful, teachers will no longer be able to escape their charges so easily. Picking up emails at home may only take a few minutes, but it will inevitably take teachers straight back to the mind-set of "school".

Teenagers being what they are, the system will be open to all sorts of abuse, whether unintentional or not. An out-of-hours "safety net" could, for example, encourage pupils not to concentrate in class: because they will be able to clear up queries later. In fact, they can now have the best of all possible worlds: mess around in school and still catch up on their work when it suits them. Knowing how reluctant boys in particular can be to seem "keen" by asking questions in front of their peers, this seems likely to happen.

And here's a sample of some of the student emails I hope never to get, but no doubt will soon be picking up once the new system starts:

"Hi, Sir! Remember me? U taught me two years ago, before I left - and I'm now retaking my GCSEs (if u remember, I only got a D grade!). Anyway, I need a quick bit of revision on The Mayor of Casterbridge and wondered if u could spare me a few hours to go thru it with me next week some time??? (PS I'm free Monday.) Don't worry - I've actually read the book this time! Cheers, Dave X."

"Hi, Sir! I know it's New Year's Day, so I know you'll be very impressed with me thinking about work. I wrote three essays for AS coursework on Jane Austen over the holidays and have now attached them for u to mark. Any chance of a quick look by return? You'll have to print them off yourself, but they're only about 1,500 words each. All the best, Sophie Y."

"Hi, Sir! Bit of a problem. U know you were asking when we finished our revision last week whether we all understood Of Mice and Men properly???? Well, I didn't want to lose face in front of the rest of the class, so of course I said, 'Yes', at the time - but I don't understand any of it from start to finish!!! I'm absolutely stumped!! Urgent help needed please!! Mum and dad said you wouldn't mind helping - as u'd be pleased I was at last taking some interest in your subject. Best, Darryl Z."

Then there are the deliberate possible abuses of the scheme that are rightly worrying the teaching unions. Many teenagers are renowned for their sense of mischief. Think of all those likely emails about needing "French lessons" and being "masterful" from dodgy sources that Sir and Miss are sure to receive, once their email addresses are safely in the hands of their students.

And imagine something like this flying out of the computer screen at you on a miserable mid-week evening: "Hi Sir. U won't know me, but I sore u all right with Ms Tonkins in town last nite. U bought all that gin and then went back to her place. But I wont tell, don't worry, as long, that is, as yore nice to 5B."

Of course, new technology has its part to play in improving examination results, but we need to draw the line somewhere. That's why the prospect of out-of-hours emails from pupils doesn't even bear thinking about.

The writer is an English teacher at Charterhouse School.

education@independent.co.uk

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