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Teaching Awards 2003

Michael Duffy meets regional winners shortlisted for the national final.

This week: Janet Whittingham, secondary teacher of the year, north-west Two of Janet Whittingham's Year 10 pupils nominated her for this award - without telling her. But she knew something was going on. "They kept smiling at me in a knowing sort of way. Then the acting head called me in and told me. I was shocked at first, then thrilled. It meant I was doing my job."

The job is head of performing arts at Fairfield high school in Widnes, Halton LEA, where Janet has worked since qualifying as a teacher in 1982.

She loves it. "It's a great school with a superb staff. Like most schools it's had its problems, but it's moving forward. The award is a real boost."

The affection is clearly mutual. Janet's enthusiastic leadership has seen the establishment of choirs and drama groups, brass and wind ensembles and a samba band. "It's a good way of attracting the boys," she says. "They love the rhythm - and the noise." So, apparently, do the teachers. The staff choir has started a samba section.

Janet's choir has sung in London, the Czech Republic, even in St Mark's in Venice. (She rang the travel companies for that, promising to buy a holiday from them if they could fix it. Next year, she says, it will be Barcelona.) It takes more than enthusiasm, though. Her passion for performing arts is rooted in its non-selective nature. "Put a pen in their hand, some children struggle. Put a beater there, they shine. And they enjoy it.

"But you have to bring music to life for them first. Music is practical. We learn about music by playing it. And this year," she says - with an eye on the school's hope for an Artsmark Gold Award - "three-quarters of my GCSE set are boys."

Her longer-term ambition is for the school to achieve specialist status as a performing arts college. "If we can raise the pound;50,000, we'll be ready to apply." Is it unfair, perhaps, that the hurdle should be financial? "I don't know, but pound;2,000 for the teaching award is at least a step towards it." How, finally, does she relax? She laughs. "I sing with a vocal group, I like salsa dancing, I have two lively dogs, and an understanding husband (who just happens to be a peripatetic music teacher)."

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 next month at www.teachingawards.com

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