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Teachers' TV

John Simkin

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Interesting article by Maggie Brown about Teachers' TV:


Maggie Brown

Monday February 6, 2006

The Guardian

There is a group of viewers whose idea of a good television programme is Demonstrating Physics and Demonstrating Chemistry. For these are the most popular programmes in the specialised world of Teachers' TV. Tomorrow marks the first anniversary for this experimental service, which is freely available on digital television and broadband and funded by the government.

As it enters its second year of broadcasting, the first annual report raises some significant questions. Is Teachers' TV worth the £20m a year that the Department for Education and Skills pumps in? Are enough educationalists watching this niche channel for the investment, and if they are, does it make them change their habits and has it improved children's education? And if it is such a good idea, then why does it only target teachers? Could it be applied to other public groups feeling alienated, for example nurses?

Businessman and philanthropist Sir Paul Judge, who is chairman of Teachers' TV's high-powered independent board, describes it as "unique development" which has got off to a "promising start". Richard Graham, head of communications at the DfES, who thought up the channel, says there are "quite a few things to celebrate. It's up and running, and a commendable achievement. But there's still a lot to do. It is early days." Scary experiments

It is fair to say that Teachers' TV inverts much television wisdom, not least by eschewing Channel 4-style attention-seeking titles. The Demonstrating strands are real science programmes to show teachers how to do scary experiments in a classroom to keep children who are more used to Sky One's Brainiac hooked.

In the popularity stakes, the science shows are followed closely by the channel's guru, John Bayley, a shrewd middle-aged expert teacher and consultant, who, in a regular slot called Ask Bayley, goes into classrooms, picks on good and bad practice in filmed lessons and then discusses them. In the past 12 months, the service, designed as a "window on the classroom", has filmed 2,500 teachers, 500 support staff, and 1,000 schools in England.

There is a debate now, says Nigel Dacre, chief executive of Education Digital Management which runs the London-based channel, about whether Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should have also services which are tailored to their curricula.

Attracting enough viewers is tricky, however. The annual report says: "Marketing is an area the board of governors gave a far lower rating ... The challenge is to convert awareness into more extensive viewing" - which is an issue that every digital channel faces. Teachers' TV was created for 842,000 head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and governors, of which 573,000 have some sort of digital access.

A modest 88,000 of this workforce watches at least five minutes each month, according to Ipsos MORI research. That represents 21% of the targeted audience. In fact far more non-professionals are watching Teachers' TV, already up to a quarter of a million each month, far out-numbering teaching professionals.

There is a "hard core" of 32,000 committed viewers, but as Dacre says, this is only year one. The channel hopes to reach 25% this year. But another 55,000 programmes are downloaded or watched each month on broadband. (Around 750 current and past programmes are freely available). This aggregates to 612,000 programmes watched a month, a cost of £2.70 per view. The board sees this as good value compared with formal training: the figure will fall as more watch.

Research on the programmes scored them for relevance and on a scale of 0-10 they averaged six. Four out of ten professionals said Teachers' TV had encouraged them to improve their careers .

Dacre says the biggest change, since getting government go-ahead in July 2004, has been the growth of broadband. "It is shaping everything we do." Andrew Bethell, director of programmes, has organised the schedule around 15 minute programmes, clearly divided into three zones, primary, secondary and general.

This timespan also works well on the web. The company owns all the rights and the 15 independent producers who make the programmes, who are all education specialists, receive a production fee averaging £30-40,000 per hour.

Bethell is exploring new genres, and more provocative, challenging and entertaining strands, for example to boost viewing during school holidays. One is The Pupil Panel - kids on teachers - and a satirical talk show is being piloted.

So how does Teachers' TV seem from the classroom? Bayley says: "Over the past year newly qualified teachers tell me they watch. I think it's gone down big with the professional teacher training agencies. The 15 minute programme is a smashing idea. Teachers adore watching other teachers. It has got to get into the middle-aged group of teachers, teachers of 15 or 20 years' standing." Its popularity among non-teachers points to something else. Anyone with a child at school might well be very interested in the way Teachers' TV takes you inside the largely closed world of school classrooms. Adult channels

Bayley says: "I think parents are beginning to watch it. So are children. Children surf the channels at night and I am forever meeting children who say they've seen me. I am wondering if Teachers' TV could do more for parents." Fiona Millar, the Guardian Education columnist who has presented The Parent Guide on the channel, agrees and wonders whether it should have been called something broader, for example the Education Channel.

Dacre says that while providing more general interest programmes, the channel has to remain focused on its central mission, but the question is not going to go away. He faces two big issues. Teachers' TV is in dispute with BSkyB over the decision to move the channel from documentaries on the EPG to the specialist category, next to the adult channels, and it has appealed to Ofcom. Bayley's anecdotal evidence that children are watching the channel has relevance here.

Second, in a bid to increase its reach it is angling for a dedicated Freeview slot, arguing that this is the digital service most attractive to middle-aged viewers of modest means, ie teachers. Ofcom has to decide how to allocate the "digital dividend" of switchover.

It is certainly doing something fresh, catching the eye of people in Qatar, Mauritius and Hungary, who have asked if they can broadcast it. The DfES is setting up a committee to consider what happens next, adding that there has also been interest from Australia and the USA. And there is icing on the cake for three shareholders in the operating consortium - Education Digital, owned by Brook Lapping (70%), ITV plc (20%) and the Institute of Education. As it scored 79.3% against key performance indicators, there is a bonus payment of £1.384m.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I have a couple of programmes coming out on Teachers TV this week:

Integrating Black History about a lesson that I taught on Elizabeth I and the Blackmoors. Wednesday - 4.00am and 6.00pm, Thursday - 2.00pm and Sunday - 3.00pm


Black History Workshop an INSET for teachers wanting to teach more Black British history. Wednesday - 4.15am and 6.15pm, Thursday - 2.15pm and Sunday - 3.15pm


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