If you really want to give your pupils a white-knuckle ride they'll remember, forget Alton Towers and enter them instead for TES Newsday 2003. This annual event, now in its 12th year, offers pupils an almost impossible challenge - they have to produce a newspaper andor a news website in one day.
The project entails high levels of stress, panic and mayhem as participants push themselves and new technology to its limits - it's easy to see why children enjoy it so much. But why did teachers in 1,287 schools take part in 2002 and why are so many of them keen to do it again this year?
Mike Elder, assistant head at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, last year's winner, has no problems finding an answer: "The project is based on teamwork and it is exciting to see pupils and staff collaborating in a lively and purposeful fashion."
Children are given the perfect opportunity to write for a specific audience, to meet critical deadlines, to master ICT skills and to cope with the 1,001 unforeseeable crises, catastrophes and cock-ups that punctuate a typical day in a professional news room.
Producing a newspaper doesn't require much fancy equipment. As a minimum, pupils can manage with a word processor, ink-jet printer, scissors and a pot of paste. They'll also need access to a photocopier and a fax machine or internet connection. Of course, it helps to have a robust DTP package, colour scanner, digital camera and the usual wish-list of gizmos, but, ultimately, it isn't the amount of equipment that matters, but how ingeniously pupils use it.
The day itself is a rollercoaster ride. The participants will have pre-written some articles and assembled background information, but they have no way of knowing which national and international stories will break on the day. They learn about these from online news services and information which arrives during the day by email or fax.
The young sub-editors and editors are constantly having to re-evaluate their copy and redesign their pages, while at the same time scanning in photos, pacifying reporters whose copy has been spiked, thinking up headlines and re-assuring Miss or Sir that there's nothing to worry about. Whatever the obstacles, the team must have its news website online or have sent off a copy of the newspaper by first-class post before 5.30pm. At which point the young journos go home to tell mum all about it and exhausted teachers justifiably congratulate themselves on service above and beyond the call of duty.
The phenomenal success of Newsday is reflected in the newspapers and websites that are produced. They are a delight, especially so when pupils are writing about their own schools and communities. Like great journalists, kids have an uncanny knack of being able to tell it like it is. You can almost hear a head of English wince when he is told his pupils'
favourite reading is Harry Potter. But when Dr Ashok Kumar MP answers young reporters' questions on whether Mr Blair is a good boss, you sense he is wondering if Alastair Campbell ever gets to read Buzz, published by Brambles Farm primary school in Middlesbrough, joint winner in the junior category last year.
Dr Kumar can rest assured - he has won himself plenty of brownie points. So, too, have magician Uri Geller, the Hamiltons, Jeff Rich (former Status Quo drummer) and the other celebs, dignitaries, local heroes and movers and shakers who have given up their time to talk to young reporters.
The best newspapers are remarkably professional. Pirhana, the winning entry from Robert Gordon's College, filled 40 impeccably designed A3 pages. And as if that wasn't enough, it also included a 12-page colour supplement full of photos from the team's own fashion shoot. Of course, it takes more than a day to produce a publication of this standard. Between Newsdays, the Pirhana team of 11 to 16-year-olds work on other school newspapers, newsletters and magazines, which gives them a chance to develop their journalistic and ICT skills.
Other schools might not be able to match that level of professionalism, but they are just as likely to find the Newsday a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Choose the day
In previous years, the event has been restricted to a single day. This year the school must still complete their newspaper or website in a day but can choose to do so on any day from March 10-14, 2003.
Contains examples of previous winners' work as well as guidelines on how to write and design a school newspaper and website.
An RM computer is awarded in each of these categories: primary; secondary up to key stage 3; secondary key stage 4 and 5. The best website, best newcomer and writer of the best feature article also receive prizes. All presentations are made at the House of Commons.
Prepare for the big day well in advance:
* Make maximum use of the free CD-Rom.
* Decide on page design, font size etc.
* Study newspapers to see how the professionals do it.
* Establish a link with your local newspaper. They'll be able to offer advice - and might publicise your efforts.
And the best advice comes from Michael Hales, the 16-year-old editor of last year's winning newspaper: "Put as much of your team's way of thinking into the paper as possible."
The event is sponsored by The TES, RM and Granada Learning. More details from www.newsday.co.uk The free CD-Rom is available from the TES stand at the BETT Show or from the organiser: Brian Robinson, RaCIT, Redcar Education Centre, Corporation Road, Redcar TS10 1HA.
* Win an RM Tablet PC worth pound;799 with TES Newsday - see page 36