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Teaching Awards 2003

Michael Duffy meets regional winners shortlisted for the national final. This week:Gulfarez Ahmed, primary school leadership award in the north region

Gulfarez Ahmed is known as "Gugsy" to all at Parkinson Lane community school in Halifax. It's a name he's had from childhood, possibly because his given name is "pretty flower", not the most apt name for a boy mad on sports, nor for a head whom parents and staff alike describe as "tough but charismatic - quite outstanding".

When he was appointed to Parkinson Lane in March 2000, there had been six heads in four years. The school had been in special measures and an inspection loomed. "We rolled our sleeves up and worked 12-hour days.

Gradually, we got results." By all standard measures, the school has been transformed. More important to Gugsy is that the "feel" of the school has changed.

"The national curriculum and Sats are important, but that learning can be too narrow. There's not enough fun in it - not enough enjoyment." Now, say the Teaching Award judges, there's a tangible buzz in the place . One afternoon a week is devoted to "out of school hours" learning, and summer schools, described by one teacher as "electric", focus not on literacy and numeracy but horse-riding and swimming. "Confidence-building activities," Gugsy calls them. There are also one-night "residentials" at Gugsy's farm house in the Pennine hills.

Gugsy has empowered his staff (they each have half a day a week off timetable to follow an activity of their choice that will benefit the school), but his main achievement has been to win the trust of parents. At first, he says, they thought he was a token Asian at this largely Pakistani school; at parents' meetings fathers followed tradition and sat separately from their wives. So Gugsy sat with the mums, challenging dads to join them. Now he's winning them over to his vision of a broader, richer education.

Gugsy knows it's early days. The progress, he says, is down to lots of factors, not least his team. But he's a Yorkshireman born and bred, and a pragmatist. "The real challenge," he says, "is to consolidate the gains we've made."

The national final of the Teaching Awards is on October 26 and will be broadcast on BBC1 in early November. Nominations for next year's awards open later next month at

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