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BECTA ICT in practice awards

The terrifying thing about this technology is what it tells us about the rate at which children learn and what that tells us about our previous expectations." Headteacher Jenny-Noel Storr says she runs a school where you can see that this is true. Jenny, of Redhill School in Telford, exemplifies the kind of teacher that assessors met in the course of meeting the entrants - teachers who are communicators, who have something to say and have a passion to transmit what they know in the best possible way. Even more important than that, teachers who want to give the best possible tools and environments for learning - explorers and experimenters.

The ICT in Practice Awards, presented by David Puttnam at the BETT show last month, were first proposed by Owen Lynch, chief executive of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). They were supported by Caroline St John-Brooks, then editor of The TES, and Jim Moore, general manager at BT Education, who provided the initial sponsorship. Dr Angela McFarlane, then of Becta, did the initial work to make the idea a reality and the awards were launched at BETT 2000.

The first entries were invited from the whole of the UK in March, with a closing date at the end of July. A shortlist was prepared during August and the schools were visited in October and November. Evidence and practice is one of Becta's main concerns and that aspect of their work is now headed by Niel McLean. It was under the aegis of that directorate that most of the work was done. Becta's Helen Walker, who has managed the project, says that they will now build on the success: "The steering group will develop the strategy so that we can move from what we have learned. All partners have a commitment to sharing the learning and there will be further material from Becta." Each winner was presented with pound;2,500, with the same amount going to the school. Runners-up received pound;500, with pound;500 for the school.

The drawback to any search that produces winners is that there is so much good work to choose from. For example, Italo Cafolla, of Castleview School in Slough, has not only thought about the school of the future but has drawn it and is well on the way to creating it; and Susan Harrison's work on school improvement at Bordesley Green Girls'School, Birmingham, has already impressed in the way that the school has added value by developing management systems - there are many more examples.

Some of the finest work with ICT is being done in special schools. Perhaps someone will ask why children have to go into hospital to receive the superb teaching that they are getting at the James Brindley Hospital School. Every child would benefit from the wonderful use of video-conferencing as Dave Hampton utilises it. Equally, every child would benefit from the multi-sensory environments that are found in special schools like Murphy Crescent, Bishops Auckland. This is education through the senses.

It will take some time to digest the lessons that have been learned from this first year. The obvious ones are that ICT embedded into a subject can and should be exciting, enabling and fun. The best use of ICT arises out of sheer necessity. ICT documentation should be as dynamic as the technology. The basic diet of de-contextualised word processing, spreadsheet and database is becoming redundant. A bad lesson taught using ICT is worse than a bad lesson taught conventionally.

The management of ICT in the classroom calls for even more careful planning. ICT in school has to be developed holistically. The headteacher's role is decisive - leading by example, crucial.

One of the most startling issues is the cross-phase problem. Primary teachers are often angered by the way their work is disregarded by teachers in secondary schools. One expressed it colourfully: they think that we're still playing with Plasticine and sand. Taking children who have been developing sophisticated materials in primary back to basics is not productive.

Are the awards a success? Everyone involved seems to think so. Apart from some minor changes, they will run in a similar manner in 20012. Owen Lynch, who started the whole thing, says: "It was exhilarating to see such wonderful practice delivered across such a varied set of educational opportunities. The challenge for us at Becta is to disseminate this practice in a manner that will lead to improved practice for other teachers and learners." Jack Kenny

The second ICT in Practice Awards will be launched at The Education Show in Birmingham, March 22-23.

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