A new flagship ‘free school’ is planning to
replace teachers with computers for some day-to-day lessons, it was claimed today.
One of England’s biggest academy chains – Ark Schools – wants to set up a new ‘blended learning’ model – which will see children taught over the internet for large chunks of the day.
The new ‘e-school’ will be known as the Ark Pioneer Academy and is due to open in London from September 2016 as part of the government’s free schools scheme, according to the teaching journal the Times Education Supplement.
Charter schools in the US – which were an inspiration for the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s free schools programme – have already tried and tested similar radical schemes with some success.
One called Rocketship pioneered the model and now operates nine schools in Milwaukee and San Jose, teaching 5,000 pupils who spend a quarter of their school day online.
Mr Smith said this allowed him to pay teachers up to 50 per cent more than nearby schools. He added that he wanted teachers earning more than $100,000 ‘as quickly as possible’
Mr Smith said: ‘If your kids are performing incredibly well, and you have eliminated the achievement gap in your classroom, and your kids are on a par with the most affluent kids in the country, we should be paying you incredibly well because you are doing amazing work.
‘We want to help you realise six figures, if not more, as quickly as possible.’
But Christine Blower, of the teaching union the NUT, said: ‘The use of the word “efficiencies” is all very nice but what it really means is cuts.
‘If we have got circumstances where we have got children ostensibly being taught, but actually sitting in front of computers for a significant amount of time and not having routine access to a teacher for every lesson, then that would be a completely wrong departure.
‘We would be concerned about the loss of teaching jobs and about the loss of proper good quality education for all children and young people.’
Ark has said it hopes that by using computers it will ‘increase the reach of great teachers’.
Documents given to the Times Education Supplement reveal how Ark believes the new model will allow teachers’ roles to be ‘revised’.
Other schools using the system have introduced new roles that include ‘master teachers’ responsible for ‘leading full-class or small group instruction’ while the computers take on more of the routine tasks.
Teachers in the new computer schools could also be responsible for ‘leading small group instruction’ or the ‘supervision of online learning’.
An ARK spokesman today said: ‘Our plans are at a very early stage, but it is worth reflecting that our blended learning pilot at King Solomon Academy did not mean fewer teachers or bigger classes, but ensuring that pupils have access to the latest in educational technology and techniques.
‘The school is rated outstanding by Ofsted and results have been improving every year, above national averages. High quality teaching is at the core of the ARK approach, and helps our schools to achieve excellent standards.’