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National Teaching Awards 2004

Michael Duffy meets regional winners who have been shortlisted for the national final. This week: Ray Speakman, West Midlands winner of the lifetime achievement award

What do you do when you retire? In Ray Speakman's case, you keep on working. Deep into the holidays he was still at it, helping to run a summer school that he started five years ago. "It's a wonderful way of creating optimism and enjoyment," he says. "It's impossible to believe, when you see it, that this school was in special measures."

His school is Nicholas Chamberlaine in Bedworth, Warwickshire. As deputy head for 21 years and as an inspiring teacher of literature and drama, he has, the judges say, done as much as anyone to help the school and its pupils overcome their difficulties. "Not true," he says, identifying the arrival of the present head as the turning point: "A leader with a clear vision, an instinct for what is right and lots of ways of making people feel proud and raising morale."

He was co-founder and director of the Birmingham Youth Theatre, and has written for television and the stage, but Ray's real love is for his school and for teaching. He is fascinated by the power of a school to lift its community, and the power of teaching to develop understanding.

It was a teacher who taught him that. At his grammar school in Cheshire, Robert Westall (not yet the children's author he became) taught art. "One day Robert asked me to keep an eye on his class. I talked to them about their work, and he must have listened. 'You're a born teacher,' he said. I decided then that that was what I was going to be. I've never regretted it." But retirement beckons. Well, partial retirement. Above all, he wants to help and encourage his wife, who is ill with bone cancer.

Back to the awards. What would he say to the Secretary of State, Charles Clarke, if he were to meet him? "I'd tell him that schools are incomparably better than when I started. We should celebrate this and stop looking for quick fixes."

The final of the Teaching Awards will be held in London on October 24 and will be broadcast on BBC2 in early November. Nominations for next year's awards are open at www.teachingawards.com

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