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Positive vibes at teaching awards

Mood at London ceremony is upbeat despite winner's anger over testing. Michael Shaw and Dorothy Lepkowska report

This year's secondary school teacher of the year has criticised the Government for its obsession with testing.

Paul Keogh planned to raise his concerns in his speech at Sunday's national teaching awards, but decided at the last minute that the occasion was inappropriate.

The head of modern languages at King James school in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, was praised by judges for the imagination he brought to French lessons.

An advanced skills teacher assessor described him as the best teacher she had ever seen.

Speaking after the awards at the London Palladium, Mr Keogh said he was concerned that testing was damaging children's enjoyment of education.

"We are spending too much time on testing, testing, testing, and it is rubbish," he said.

"My six-year-old daughter came home in tears because she had to sit a test in silence. Why are we doing that? There is more to education than tests."

Mr Keogh warned that plans to make modern languages optional at 14 would make pupils lag even further behind their counterparts in other European countries.

Such criticism was rare at this year's awards ceremony which many said was the most upbeat since the scheme began five years ago.

Nearly 4,000 teachers were nominated, and celebrities who presented the awards included the actress Zoe Wanamaker, Band of Brothers star Damian Lewis, and footballing legend Sir Bobby Charlton. As well as the golden "Plato" statuettes, the 10 national winners received pound;25,000 worth of ICT equipment, cash and training courses for their schools.

The loudest laugh of the evening went to Tony Blair, filmed creeping into assembly at Godwin junior school in Newham, London, to present the prize for best primary teacher to Nina Panayis.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that his visit - two days after his heart-scare - must have been a major surprise for the teacher. "I hope her heart's in good condition," he said.

Lord Puttnam, chairman of the teaching awards, said they had been established to tackle a "sense of disillusionment" among teachers but that this had vanished over the past five years.

His optimism was shared by many prize-winners, including Tony Maxwell, who won the lifetime achievement award after spending his entire 37-year teaching career at the same school, St Michael's Roman Catholic secondary in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees. "For 32 of my 37 years in teaching, the most you could expect was a pat on the back," he said. "The awards are a fantastic event and I think the profession is getting more confident."

Even some sceptics were converted by the ceremony. Spokey Wheeler, head of Wavell school in Farnborough, said he had been "infinitely cynical" about the awards before attending them, but was planning to nominate colleagues for next year's event.

Nominations for the 2004 teaching awards can be made at A full list of winners appears in this week's Friday magazine. The teaching awards will be broadcast on BBC 2 tomorrow at 4.30pm

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