Oxford inspirational teaching award for man with great impact

14th January 2011 at 00:00
An Inverness-based teacher has become one of the first in the UK to receive an award from top university for his influential teaching

When Ian Cripps, now a history teacher in Inverness, left school in 1971 and headed off to one of England's most prestigious universities, Cambridge, it was his working-class parents who really appreciated the significance of his achievement and the value of the opportunity.

"My father was a factory worker and my mum had a part-time job. To them, it was this amazing thing. I don't think I quite realised how fortunate I was until later."

Over the years, Charleston Academy in Inverness, where Mr Cripps is head of history, has succeeded in sending other pupils to similar opportunities at Oxbridge.

Last year, Rachel Tidey made the move south to study history at Oxford and it was her nomination that resulted in Mr Cripps winning one of the university's eight inaugural inspirational teaching awards, designed to recognise teachers from UK state schools and colleges.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford, says: "The winning teachers chosen this year were those whose passion and commitment to their students had a wide impact. These teachers inspired students in their successful applications to Oxford, but also clearly helped to raise the aspirations of others, and did their best to encourage all their students to realise their own potential."

In her nomination, Rachel described Mr Cripps as "greatly raising" her expectations of what she might achieve academically and encouraging his students to "think independently" by engaging with and challenging his ideas.

"Mr Cripps consistently exceeded the demands of his remit to provide academic and pastoral support," she wrote. "The extra time and advice offered throughout my application to Oxford were characteristic of him."

However, with the introduction of increased tuition fees in England, Mr Cripps, 58, wonders how many other students will get the opportunity which he has come to value so highly and ultimately led to his entering a profession he has "loved". It was his dean at Cambridge who suggested he become a teacher more than 35 years ago.

"I imagine places like Oxford and Cambridge will charge whatever they can and, whether you call it a debt or not, I think that will put people off."

He doubts whether he would have gone if charges of up to pound;9,000 a year had applied in the 1970s. The education he received at Downing College was completely free, with his parents making just a small contribution to his living costs.

While his name is on the Oxford award, Mr Cripps feels it's an acknowledgment of the whole school's hard work. It was also "good for teaching in general", he says.

"Anything that recognises the worth of teachers in the present climate is to be welcomed. A lot of teaching is not about what is in the contract, but what else you do - and many, many teachers do a lot more than they are contracted to do."

The key to inspiring pupils is challenging them, he believes.

"You have got to engage with pupils and make sure lots of different things are happening during the lesson and they have not got a minute to twiddle their thumbs."

Tom Speirs, acting headteacher of Charleston, says the award has resulted in well-deserved recognition for a talented teacher. "Mr Cripps is dedicated to his pupils and enthusiastic about his subject," he says. "This is reflected in his results and the results of his department, which are outstanding."

In 2010, 35 candidates sat Higher history at Charleston Academy, and 21 of them (60 per cent) achieved As; 12, Bs; and 2, Cs. "This places the school in the top 20 per cent of schools in terms of numbers of presentations in history and in the top 10 per cent of schools in terms of performance," says Mr Speirs.


Awards for top marks

Former Firhill High pupil Katie Vokes has won two awards for attaining the top marks in Advanced Higher physics and chemistry in 2010.

The Edinburgh pupil, who left school last summer to study maths at Durham University, dropped just one mark in her Advanced Higher physics exam, achieving 124125 for physics and 118125 for chemistry.

She was presented with the awards at her old school in front of her family and teachers by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics in Scotland.

Senior depute head John Wood says: "Katie has an outstanding academic record; probably the best I've seen. I've taught many talented students over the years and normally shy away from singling out individual performances, but I think Katie's is indeed remarkable and impressive."

Pupil's play will go on

A play written by a pupil from Hillpark Secondary in Glasgow will be performed at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow later this month.

Conner Milliken, S6, will have his play performed as part of the Traverse Theatre's 21st birthday celebration of its Class Act playwriting programme. The performance will include one play written by pupils from each of the 21 years the programme has been running, with Conner's picked to represent 2010.

Last year was the first time Glasgow schools were included in Class Act, along with schools from Edinburgh and West Lothian.

Conner's drama teacher, Janice Browning, says: "I know this is a young man who will go far."

His play, entitled The Thirteenth Night, is set in a Glasgow housing scheme and focuses on the conversations and revelations that take place among the smokers at a 60th birthday party.

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