Schools that are turning themselves around need everyone on board, not just the teachers. Support staff can be crucial in creating a positive, can-do atmosphere and helping pupils in the most practical ways. Catherine Hawthorn is just that kind of person - deeply involved in the life of her school, Pen y dre High school in Merthyr Tydfil, while doing a superb job as a lab technician. "She's fantastic with children and turns her hand to whatever needs doing," says head of science Vikki Prosser, who nominated Catherine, aged 27, for our Bouquet of the Week.
Under headteacher John Williams, the school is actively involved in raising student achievement. Cognitive Accelerated Science Education - the CASE project - started last year and Catherine seized the chance to help create new experiments. With a degree in applied science, she says she loves setting up experiments from scratch. "It's great getting the kids to think," she says. Some of her ideas are now part of the curriculum. Results at Pen y dre are also getting a boost through the Toe by Toe literacy project, which pairs children with an adult helper. Last year Catherine worked with two girls in Year 7 on their reading. "There was a dramatic improvement by the end of the year, so it was very rewarding."
Recently Catherine has become a school governor, representing non-teaching staff at the school. Fitness is another interest ("we're on a split site so I'm often running...") and last weekend she achieved her black belt in the martial art of ju-jitsu. The day before she'd been a steward at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup. She says she might train as a teacher one day. Meanwhile she's a highly valued member of the team at Pen y dre.
Next week, nomination packs for the national teaching awards will be sent to every school in the country (apart from Scotland which, it's hoped, will join in 2001). The judging panel includes all the teaching unions, and schools can nominate up to four staff, including classroom assistants. The positive effects of this year's awards were felt by journalist Wendy Wallace, whose piece on Page 7 describes communities where winning has raised everyone's morale. While you consider the Plato pack, why not send me a postcard for someone special to get flowers?