In a realm of their own

Jack Kenny

Becta's new ICT Excellence Awards recognise gifted and talented teachers and also salute innovative schools. Jack Kenny reports

The national ICT in Practice Awards, run by Becta with support from, among others, The TES and Ramesys, have run for five years and during that time they have pinpointed some of the most gifted and charismatic teachers in the UK. For judges it has been a pleasure to walk into a classroom and to realise that they were in the presence of a teacher who was not only making a difference in that room, but would, with the publicity of the awards, extend their influence far beyond their school.

However, the power of the individual teacher to transform a school is limited. Most people know of examples of talented teachers leaving behind them little but good memories. They also know of teachers who ran superb ICT-rich lessons surrounded by other teachers in the same school who rarely used the technology. Some award winners excelled in spite of the school, not because of it. Many, however, left and continue to leave powerful impressions on their schools.

One of the first ICT in Practice winners who demonstrated the power of whole-school ICT was Jenny Noel-Storr. Six years ago Jenny, the head of Redhill school, in Telford, was demonstrating many of the ideas that Becta's "change" strategy espouses. She was arguing that the focus of her attention was not so much on the ICT itself as on the possibilities it opened up both for children's learning and as a time-saver for teachers.

She believed, and still does, that children and teachers should be learners together: "All the staff see themselves as learners. Children don't think it is at all strange if the teachers don't know something, and teachers don't mind being in that position. I've always seen schools as learning communities."

Teachers at Redhill used ICT for planning, recording and for access to resources which are incorporated into their planning. The work done electronically made for flexibility and efficiency and saved teachers time.

The most ground-breaking thing that Jenny did, little to do with ICT, was to interview prospective teachers in their current school so that she could see them teach. Simple and effective: how amazing that six years on more heads do not do that.

It was exciting to see three to five-year-old learners having fun with a range of technologies from bar-code readers and phones to metal detectors and closed-circuit TV. Gamesley Early Excellence centre is one of the most remarkable discoveries of the awards. Head Lynn Kennington is full of praise for the opportunities they opened up: "ICT is as much part of the children's world as literacy and numeracy or any other part of this complex world of which they are trying to make sense." An imaginative, holistic approach to the use of ICT with pre-school children was pioneered at this centre. Since winning the award in 2003, the staff of the centre have trained more than 4,000 teachers in 43 local authorities, and others outside the UK. All the more remarkable that the centre is housed in an overspill estate on the Manchester outskirts.

Richard Heppell (left), advanced skills teacher at Beauchamp college, Leicestershire, ensured that at least the whole science department was working in his way. He used ICT to take people into realms of analysis in science they would not have reached otherwise, limited as some students are by their maths skills (an intelligent implementation of Excel spreadsheets took care of their maths so that they could concentrate on the science). He was also one the first teachers to use a webcam on his desk which, allied with a projector, brought minute objects to life on the screen for all the students.

In Becta's new ICT Excellence Awards the focus on the individual will remain, but it will be individuals whose practice grows out of a supportive ICT infrastructure. The school as a whole will be rewarded, but there will be a focus within the new awards on those individuals leading change within the school and making an impact across it.

The purpose of these new awards is not just to dole out prizes. There will be prizes, but the deeper goal will be to answer the eternal ICT-in-schools question: "What does good look like?" People at Becta can develop frameworks, offer advice and support, but it will be schools and their teachers who will be breathing life into those strategies and frameworks.

Spreading the lessons learned from exemplar schools that develop new ideas and ways of working is the central purpose.

The new awards are open to schools across the UK who are using ICT in outstanding or mould-breaking ways with an emphasis on the whole-school approach. The launch coincides with Becta's SRF for school and college improvement with ICT and the new ICT Mark.

See page 23 for more details

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Jack Kenny

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