Producing a school paper is a great way to build teamwork, says Arnold Evans, so why not take part in TES Newsday?
The Vision, Piranha, Odyssey, The Flying Bull, Tons of Fun, Off the Cuff, The Marble, The Daily Squint, and countless other school newspapers are providing children from infant classes to sixth-form colleges with an opportunity to hone their journalistic skills.
They learn, too, all about teamwork. Because a successful newspaper, unlike the traditional school magazine, is so much more than an anthology of pupils' writing. It's the result of a collaborative effort in which young journalists hammer out a distinctive style, design the pages and ponder over how to make the best use of every column inch. Ideally, the teacher takes a back seat.
Brian Robinson, the organiser of TES Newsday, the annual competition to find the best school newspapers, says: "Pupils must feel that they are responsible for the final product. Then they really care about how it turns out and want to make that extra effort. I know things are going really well in a school when, as happens more often these days, it's the children who phone me up with queries and not their teachers."
Diane Cox at Yarm Primary in Stockton-on-Tees, the school that won the primary category in last year's competition, knows how to get pupils thinking like journalists: "I tell them to imagine a man getting on a train with our newspaper. When he gets off we want him to think, 'That journey went quickly. I really enjoyed reading that'."
Of course, if children are to create that illusive great read, they will have to satisfy many of the requirements of the National Literacy Strategy and national curriculum in English and ICT. They must write with their audience in mind, use the conventions of journalism, experiment with design and layout and, crucially, "plan, revise, edit writing to improve accuracy and conciseness and to bring it to publication standard". And, the hard bit, they have to find something interesting to write about.
Inevitably, their writing will reflect their own concerns and events in their community but they should avoid being parochial. That means they have to bin the kick-by-kick account of the Second XI's home draw and publish instead - to take a few examples from the Newsday entries - the dog that rescued a drowning man, a loonie stunt for Children in Need and a dewy-eyed stalwart of the school canteen, hanging up her ladle after a lifetime of chips and Turkey Twizzlers.
Brian says: "The children who usually get best marks for their essays aren't always the best journalists. Newspapers can give the other pupils in a class a chance to shine if they can find interesting stories to write about."
Any essayist can write a page of purple prose on "My Father" but it took a budding journalist at Yarm to spot that a classmate's dad would make far better copy as he just happens to be Iron Maiden's Janick Gers. Camilla Temple and Laura Connell, winners of the best feature article in last year's Newsday, managed to wangle an interview with Andrew Marr. "I prepared questions before hand about current politics and Laura's were about the state of the BBC," says Camilla. "We had a Dictaphone and transcribed the interview before writing the article."
That isn't playing at journalism, it's the real thing. To learn how journalists structure articles and design layouts, pupils should read and analyse as many newspapers as they can. The regional presses, as part of their Newspapers in Education initiative, are sometimes willing to offer help and frequently organise school newspaper competitions in their area.
Brian Robinson has produced a CD packed with guidelines, checklists and exemplar material which is free to all schools that register for this year's Newsday, even if they never quite get round to entering their newspaper. The CD also contains advice on how to create a news website which can also be entered for Newsday. It offers the same challenges as a print-based publication but has one major advantage. Once it's posted on the net, a news website has a potential readership of 450 million. An audience of that size should be enough to inspire any young hack.
* To be eligible for TES Newsday, which is open to pupils of all ages, newspapers must be compiled on any single school day between January 30 and February 3 or March 13-17.
For details visit www.newsday.co.uk
* Advice on organising a school newspaper is available at several sites including: news.bbc.co.ukcbbcnewshifind_outguides2003school_newspapers dmgt.co.ukcorporateresponsibilityforschools nytimes.comlearninggeneralspecialsweblines english.unitecnology.ac.nzresourcesunitspaperprodcreate.html
* Publications that might help: Developing IT and Language Skills through Newspaper Production (photocopiable worksheets from chalkface.com pound;25) A School Newspaper by Sally Hewitt (Franklin Watts, available in paperback from February, pound;5.99) is a child-friendly guide to the subject, based on the experiences of pupils at Southwold Primary school, Bicester.
To see their newspaper visit atschool.eduweb.co.uksouthwoldnewspapernewspaper.html
* Some other school newspapers that can be read online: oundlechronicle.com
lNewsday 2005 winners: best news webpage: hillsroad.ac.uknewsday best secondary school: spgs.orgwebsitewhat-we-doartsjournalism.htm