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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

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Spy in the classroom

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? Year 11 maths students Jessica Ainsworth, left, and Ami Bucknall look into the two-way mirror

By Fiona MacLeod

Education reporter

A REVOLUTIONARY class-room is giving teachers and their pupils nowhere to hide.

The new observation room at Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton is believed to be a world first.

And the man behind the idea – headteacher Peter Ireland – hopes it will prove a beacon for the teaching profession.

“This is the first time that an ordinary school has built an observation room,” he said.

The idea for using a two-way mirror like those used for police identity parades came from “watching too many police series”, Mr Ireland said.

“I saw a learning opportunity and took the idea from there.

“There are people in this school who are wonderful teachers, much better than I am, and I wondered how we could learn from each other.

“I really do believe it is going to be a powerful tool for improving teacher practices.”

The history and philosophy teacher added: “There are teaching hospitals and I want us to be a teaching school in the sense that we don’t just teach the kids but teach the teachers as well.”

Mr Thomlinson said the idea was not a “Big Brother” scheme.

“Primarily it is not the pupils we are looking at – it is the teacher,” he said.

Deputy head Janet Downes uses the room for her maths classes.

She said: “I was apprehensive when I first went in but it is my room now and it is just a room with a bit of a difference.”

Most of the pupils taught in the professional development room have been shown the view from the other side of the mirror.

Eve Macdonald, 15, has maths in the room nicknamed the goldfish bowl by teachers.

She said: “It feels like you are always being watched even if no-one is in the room. I feel a bit uncomfortable because you don’t know who is there but you forget about it after a while.”

Classmate David Smithson, 15, said: “If I keep on working I forget about it but if it’s a class discussion I think a bit more about what I’m going to say because you don’t know who is listening.”

The room, estimated to cost around £100,000, is part of a £400,000 extension.

Funding is expected from Cumbria County Council, school funds and sponsors who helped the school acquire status as a specialist business studies school.

Wigton industrialist Bill Lowther is set to officially open the room and the block with Innovia Films boss Dennis Matthewman.

The teaching block is to be named after Mr Lowther – a former pupil.

Mr Ireland said: “As a school we are proud of him and Wigton owes so much to him.

“He personifies so many things I think are important to the school such as loyalty to his community and actually making a difference in the world.”

The school’s heads of department have been shown the observation room and headteachers from the local primary schools have been given a tour.

It is hoped the facility will eventually be able to help improve teaching standards beyond the school.

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