Reaching out for just rewards

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
Scottish achievements need to make their presence felt at this year's TES Schools Awards. Julia Horton reports

"He's done it all" - the TES awards judges' summary of Alan Byrne, the Scottish principal teacher of PE to whom they awarded the top Lifetime Achievement honour in 2010, was no exaggeration.

In his 40-year career, mostly based at Stonelaw High in South Lanarkshire, Mr Byrne has scored countless high-level sporting victories across a range of disciplines, producing an incredible seven internationalists from six sports and some of the best PE exam results in Scotland.

His "caring counsel" and motivational approach inspired the least active youngsters to exercise more, netting Stonelaw several accolades for health promotion, while his Higher course materials are used by more than 100 schools.

It was a tough act to follow, but the subsequent awards produced no Scottish winners, leaving educationalists north of the border concerned that schools here are missing a valuable opportunity.

Looking at the figures for 2011, the root cause of Scotland's relative lack of success is a serious lack of entries. Of 333 schools that entered, only a dozen were Scottish.

This time around, awards judge Professor Graham Donaldson, former HMIE chief and author of the Donaldson report, is urging schools and teachers here to participate - and reap the benefits.

"I personally am aware of a whole range of interesting work going on in Scotland that for whatever reason is not coming through," he says. "People are not putting themselves forward. I suspect a major factor is simply lack of awareness. Scottish schools may also feel that it is more geared towards schools in England."

When Scottish schools do enter, as Mr Byrne proved, they often do well. Four of the 12 Scottish schools that did enter last year were shortlisted. However, none went on to win, which highlights another issue raised by Professor Donaldson.

He believes many schools in Scotland are missing out on well-deserved recognition because teachers fail to provide adequate proof of their achievements.

"As a judge, you have to distinguish between things that may sound good but at the end of the day there's no evidence of their impact on children or schools, and things that sound good and have also shown demonstrable impact," he explains.

"England has a stronger measurement culture than Scotland, so, for example, the English system of national testing makes it easier for schools in England to provide test scores as evidence of their improvement.

"Scottish submissions tend to be less strong in terms of giving evidence of the impact of what they are doing, and Scottish schools have to ask themselves what evidence they can produce.

"But we have a long history of self-evaluation in Scotland, which I think schools need to use more in evidence to support their award applications."

One of the new categories this year is "ICT Visionaries in Education", which Professor Donaldson believes Scotland should be in the running for.

Meanwhile, the other new categories this year, "Headteacher of the Year" and "Teacher of the Year", offer a completely level playing field for teachers across the UK.

"Like the lifetime achievement award, individuals in these categories are clearly able to be judged in terms of who they are and what they have done, with testimonials that support that. These are people who are inspirational to their children and colleagues," Professor Donaldson says.

Given all the pressures on teachers, it's easy to question the value of entering any educational award. However, feedback from past winners suggests that it is well worth the effort.

Some found their success helped secure valuable funding to continue their work, while others were offered further educational opportunities as a result of their win, with pupils at one school accepting a once-in-a- lifetime invitation to meet the Pope during his recent UK visit.

Professor Donaldson also believes Scottish successes help to promote the good reputation of Scotland's schools further afield.

"There are obviously benefits for individual schools, but also more widely for the Scottish education system. The excellent work happening in Scotland's schools should receive a UK-wide profile and the recognition it deserves," he says.

Meanwhile, for anyone who feels they deserve an award but doubts they have the time to submit an application, he offers the following encouragement: "If you're good, it shouldn't take long at all to enter. Any school which would be a serious candidate would already have all the information needed to enter at its fingertips. The entry forms are not huge."


Professor Graham Donaldson says:

- Try to put yourself in the judge's shoes. If someone is going to have to make a decision based on the information you're providing, think about whether you are conveying your commitment and enthusiasm and whether you are showing how what you are doing has led to tangible achievements.

- Think of the judge as an individual and write as if you are facing them across the desk and telling them what you've achieved.

- What comes through from the strongest applications is that the aspirations and expectations schools have of themselves and their children shine through in almost every sentence of the application.

- The kinds of things they are doing go beyond simply being very good at those things which you hope every school is good at. Often it's intangible - it's the "wow factor" and how that has been followed through and impacted on the children.

New categories

Headteacher of the year; Teacher of the year; ICT Visionaries in education.

How to enter

See: Deadline for applications: 25 March, 2012.


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