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Passionate about ict

As the Becta Awards roll into their fifth year, Jack Kenny reviews this year's winners and nominees.

You can read about the winners on the following pages, and about the runners-up in future issues of TES Online and Teacher magazines

At the beginning of September a long road winds ahead for all those working on the ICT in Practice Awards run by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) and supported by The TES, Pearson and BT.

The road stretches all across the UK and in and out of schools and colleges. This year, the fourth for the awards, the rise in standards has been more marked. It is now obvious that some of the emphasis on training in recent years has begun to pay off. The general skills level is much higher and the technological fluency of all who entered has reached an advanced level.

Becta chief executive Owen Lynch, who set up the awards, says: "Now entering their fifth year, the awards are successfully meeting our original intention. Teaching professionals listen to and learn from each other: that is what the awards are about. These awards have a high priority with Becta.

Our role is to ensure that leading practice is acknowledged, celebrated and communicated to other professionals.

"The new categories this year identified and rewarded the good practice among newly qualified teachers and learning assistants. All the entries demonstrated a passion for using ICT to transform teaching and learning and to raise educational standards."

A high point of this year's entrants has been the strong showing from the FE sector. The lively teaching of Anna Smith in Cambridge, the dedication of Judith Lisgarten at Thurrock and Basildon College and the cool professionalism of the staff from Thomas Danby College have set a very high standard.

Schools as research institutions came into focus. Niall MacKinnon of Plockton Primary School, a small Gaelic-medium school up by the Kyle of Lochalsh decided to look at digital microscopes. He evaluated five and the current favourite in most schools compared badly with most of the others.

Meanwhile, Russell Moon and his staff at Philip Morant School in Colchester have pioneered some new strategies for dealing with staff cover.

The new categories produced some outstanding work. At the end of the process, the category New to Teaching produced two exceptional teachers - Lesley Marwood and David Whitfield - poles apart in age yet united by their energy and optimism. In spite of their lack of experience, both had the courage to experiment and to work far beyond their own classroom.

Classroom assistants are important for ICT. Assistants who were working with teachers rather than in place of teachers are what the judges were looking for. The level of commitment, the subtlety and the expertise that was seen was impressive. Teachers who have the back-up from assistants of the quality that we saw are very fortunate. It is doubtful if ICT can move forward smoothly and positively without the help of such skilled and professional people.

There is a danger in awards like these that the schools with the best kit will walk away with the prizes. Judith Lisgarten at Thurrock and Basildon College shows that need not happen. It is hard to imagine anyone working in more difficult circumstances. She was working with a very limited budget, a BBC computer and a printer. It was what she did within those limitations that won the day. If you think it can't be done, think of Judith.

Local authorities and support services do complex and demanding work. The judges were very impressed with the work that is being done in Cambridgeshire. However, it was the splendid, ground-breaking work done by Dudley and its partner RM that impressed. But no one could ignore the driving intensity of Norman Crawford in Tameside who has turned a negative Ofsted report into a hymn of praise. These are all significant contributions.

"Key for Becta," says Colin Cadney, head of awards and dissemination at Becta, "is that we make available to all what we discover about good practice through these awards. Practically everyone who entered has an aspect of their practice that is worthy of note and Becta will work with most of them over the coming months to ensure that their messages are heard."

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