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Teaching Awards 2003

Michael Duffy talks to Robert Barber, winner of the award for school and community involvement in the south-west

Robert Barber always wanted to be an actor - until he discovered what an actor's life involved. "Too much like living out of the back of a van," he says. So he trained to teach theatre instead, and got the best of both worlds. For 18 years, his "exciting, deeply satisfying" career has been at the Park community school in Barnstaple, north Devon - and in the town. He is a founder member of a local theatre company, writes and directs its most successful plays, organised (with all the schools involved) its Millennium celebrations, and holds the Mayor's Cup for services to the community.

But the Park is at the heart of it all. "I love writing, acting and directing, but first and foremost, I'm a teacher. Theatre is about participation, and participation enriches learning. It develops children's confidence, allowing them to explore history and the human condition through stories. It makes a difference to their lives."

Robert has developed his own form of forum theatre. Typically, Year 10 students devise a performance for younger children on a given issue - bullying, for example, or the needs of children who are carers. It has become an integral part of the PSHE citizenship programme in Years 8 and 9. But it extends beyond the school. GCSE drama students watch a professional performance on the theme of a traditional story, then write and perform their own version for the town's older primary children, who, in turn, have a story to tell to their own schools. "It pulls down barriers between year groups and schools. And children learn that stories are there for the telling. They learn theatre."

Perhaps it takes an actor and a storyteller to work this sort of magic.

Robert says not - just good training, a committed community school and a supportive environment. Barnstaple, full of history and incident, has certainly been that, and his plays and musicals have drawn richly on the ancient borough's past. But every town, he says, has such incidents to draw on - and, in its schools and homes, a willing cast of thousands.

Somehow, he fits a growing family - and cycling - into what would be for most of us two full-time jobs. He has a special regard too, for the Teaching Awards. "It made me really proud to be a teacher," he says.

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

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