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Cream of the crop

Next week, Lord David Puttnam will present the first-ever BECTA ICT in Practice Awards, sponsored by BT and supported by The TES. Jack Kenny, who travelled the UK evaluating the nominees, explains why they are so important.

The British Educational Communica-tions and Technology Agency's ICT in Practice Awards, sponsored by BT and supported by the The TES will be presented at the BETT 2001 educational technology show at Olympia, London, next Thursday.

They could be the most important awards for educational ICT ever given in the UK, not just for all who are taking part but for everyone who is working with information and communications technology (ICT) in order to ensure a better and more relevant education for the next generation.

The ways of using ICT for teaching are still a matter of debate. What are the best strategies? What will extract maximum benefit? Does the technology work better in some subjects than others? How does this technology affect classroom management? What kind of environment needs to be created in a school for learning with ICT to flourish? What is the most appropriate kind of advice and support for teachers in this area?

Nearly 200 practitioners from across the UK were nominated. Entries came from the Orkneys in the north to Cornwall in the south, Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The entries closed at the end of July, and were read and assessed in August. During October and November, shortlisted teachers were visited, and eventually two from each category were chosen to go forward to an interview at Becta. Lord David Puttnam will announce the winners and present them with their cheques at BETT 2001 (pound;2,500 to each award holder and pound;2,500 to the school). The awards are to become an annual event.

Travelling around the UK in October and November was not the easiest of tasks with the floods and railways in crisis. However, seeing good practice day after day was stimulating and absorbing - inspiring even. There were things to learn from everybody. The problem is that when something is structured as a competition it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the primary purpose was to discover good practice.

There was no category for design of environments. If there had been, the ICT areas designed by Maria Aldridge, the school effectiveness co-ordinator at West Heath in Birmingham, would have been a prime contender. You walk into the school to meet a life-size cardboard cut-out of Indiana Jones. Darth Vader guards the ICT room which looks like the Starship Enterprise. Maria knows that a quality environment is very important and she puts it into practice. Why should we expect first rate learning in third rate rooms?

No one would argue that this is all the best practice in the UK. This year, hopefully, more people will look at these awards and think: "I can do that", or even "I would like to share what I do." There is a great deal to learn from all who entered. There is a great deal more still to learn from people out there. Which is why Online will devote extra space to cover those included in the shortlist in our February edition to make sure we share the wealth of good practice uncovered in these awards Are there any consistent themes coming out of all of this? The debate about whether primary schools should have computer suites should be aired and there are people in these schools who can contribute. How do you use a whiteboard to teach literacy? Can you have a variety of platforms and still stay sane? What ratio of computers to students is ideal? How do you use the Internet creatively? How can you move videoconferencing from a bolt-on technology to an essential tool?

Above all, we can see that the teacher is paramount. The people we saw had not developed good practice because they used ICT; they would be good if they were using self-stick notes. However, it was the curiosity and open-mindedness characteristic of the good teacher that impelled them to use ICT well. Using it well made them into more effective teachers. In all of the schools, ICT is backed and supported from the top. ICT is used creatively and is not just a giant filing cabinet. Great ICT is essentially interactive with the roles of producer and consumer being blurred.

Imagination and creativity are as important to teachers as they always were.

Jack Kenny was an adjudicator for the Becta ICT in Practice Awards, which will be presented by Lord Puttnam after his TES keynote address, Teachers Make a Difference - What about ICT?, at the BETT show on Thursday, January 11 at 11amThe awards announcement will be posted Becta publication, Showcasing excellence in the 2001 ICT in Practice Awards, will be available on Becta's stand, C30X30

The eight categories for the ICT in Practice awards are:

* School management: secondary

* School management: primary

* Subject teaching: secondary

* Subject teaching: primary

* Special educational needs: secondary

* Special educational needs: primary

* Advice and support

* Widening participation in further education.

The main themes for all awards are:

* Commitment to the use of ICT for teaching and learning

* An understanding of how their work has contributed to raising standards

* The ability to inspire and motivate students and colleagues

* Visionary and sustainable plans.

Outstanding achievement (clockwise from top left): Maria Aldridge, West Heath School in Birmingham's school effectiveness co-ordinator in its Space Age network ICT suite;

Stephen Bucknall, information and learning technology manager at the East Yorkshire College, Bridlington, with its Computer Bus;

David Nicholls, head of art at Thurlow Park GM Special School in south-east London;

Dave Hampton, both a teacher and head of ICT at Birmingham Childrens Hospital; Helen Crawford, deputy head and ICT co-ordinator at Murphy Crescent Special Educational Needs Primary School in Bishop Aukland, lounges in the school's multi-sensory room.

Subject teaching: primary

"Some secondary school teachers seem to think that kids spend most of their time in primary playing in sand." Bitter? Yes. An exaggeration? Maybe, but that teacher was exasperated by the continued refusal of many to recognise what fine work is going on in primary schools in ICT. It is no exaggeration to say that the curricular use of ICT seen from the people who entered this category was exemplary. The use of the interactive whiteboard is being developed quickly. Teachers like Kathryn Costello, in Nettlesworth, are using boards to increase impact and to share material with pupils in ways that were impossible before. At a school in Denton, Aisha Naeem has done similar work and has some useful information on how to use this new technology. Mark Robinson from Ambleside and Philip Edwards from Cwmaber School have put the Internet at the heart of their teaching, pioneering online learning.

They both show that using the Internet is a two-way process; you can give as well as take away. David Baugh, in Denbigh, insists that the computers are within easy reach of his students at all times so that the work in ICT can be integral.

Subject teaching: secondary

It was interesting to see that some subjects, like history and science, were represented more than others. Mark Mullis, at Arrow Vale, has introduced ICT into physical education. He uses databases to simplify the administration, and video clips to study technique. Richard Heppell, at the Beauchamp College, uses ICT to take people into realms of analysis in biology they would not have reached otherwise, limited as some students are by their maths skills. Sue Howarth, of the independent Royal High School in Bath, is also a scientist and uses ICT mainly as a communication tool.

School management: secondary

The most spectacular location was Sanday in the Orkneys. Jackie Story has a small school of 85 students, but as it is on one of the remote Orkney islands she has been determined to use ICT to ensure that her pupils are not disadvantaged by their location. Video-conferencing is at the heart of the school's provision. German is taught by a teacher from a nearby island, Spanish is supplied by a teacher from Inverness and lessons are no longer dependent on boats or planes getting through. One of the nursery nurses gained her qualification by attending classes in Kirkwall via this technology.

Susan Harrison, at Bordesley School, Birmingham, has created a structure that has undoubtedly helped to ensure that the school continues to add value.

School management: primary

Using the Internet to make price comparisons is only one way that headteacher Jeremy Griffiths of Ysgol Frongoch in Denbigh uses ICT. He devises systems, built around SIMS, to help track the attainments of pupils across the years and they can be used to diagnose problems and to report to parents. Jeremy has built a school that has ICT in its pores and has made sure that he has staff who will live and breathe it. Jenny Noel Storr is head of a new school on Telford. She believes keenly in the power of ICT from recording the achievements of five-year-olds to problem solving, risk taking, co-operating, communicating and hypothesising. Jenny does not have computer suites as she doesn't want the children to see ICT as a "treat" but as a learning tool that permeates everywhere and is always available.

Special educational needs

Bernard Gummett in Cumbria was criticised for buying Big Macs (a switch device that, when pressed, will say a word). "How do you value a word?" is his reply. For some children this will be their only word. The strenuous efforts made by teachers and pupils to achieve small steps is humbling. To watch a child present a PowerPoint sequence just by a movement of his head makes you realise it is one of the few times that he is in control. ICT is about access. In the James Brindley hospital school, Birmingham, children have the world and learning brought to them. Recently they observed a vasectomy on a lion in a South African game park, and interviewed a diver on the Barrier Reef. Children in isolation rooms can still take part in lessons.

In Murphy Crescent School, in Bishop Auckland, children can enjoy the stimulus of an interactive multi-sensory room that is so pleasurable that every child should have the experience.

Advice and support

LEAs have had a bad press over the last few years but when you see a practitioner like Kathryn Buckby, who is preparing support materials that schools really value, and Paula Stallard, who is working with nursery children in inner Birmingham, you realise that if people like these did not exist they would have to be invented. Gareth Mills has developed a service in the new unitary authority in Slough and Mike Partridge has created a service in Stockport that is widely admired.

Widening participation in further education

An ICT bus trundles around Yorkshire and many of its fixtures and fittings were developed at Bridlington College. Further inland, at Beverley College, Sue Tuckey has done some ICT work with a Chinese community in Hull. Stuart Dethick, in Newark, has begun to develop online resources for remote learning. In Sheffield, Andy Wynne has begun to develop a network for the entire city.

Peter Funnell, in Ipswich, has set up a group to look at online learning for e-commerce and e-learning.

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