Reward our teams, not just individuals

9th January 2009 at 00:00
Honours criticised for not acknowledging achievements of whole school teams, and a separate system for Wales is suggested

The awarding of New Year's Honours to teaching staff - rather than school teams - was criticised by some in education this week.

Just one headteacher and a chair of governors in Wales were honoured by the Queen. Despite the low numbers, some believe it is wrong to single out individuals in the classroom.

Even David Newsome, head of Ysgol Dyffryn Taf in Carmarthenshire, said he felt uneasy over being the recipient of an OBE, preferring instead to praise his colleagues for his achievements.

Mr Newsome, who has taught for more than 30 years and been a head for 10, described receiving the accolade as "part of life's pageant".

He said he was having difficulty coming to terms with the individual honour bestowed on him.

"I think that community spirit in schools is what brings credit to us as a profession. Tackling pupil behaviour, for example, is not the responsibility of any one person."

Team spirit at Dyffryn Taf certainly won over Estyn - the Welsh inspectorate - during its latest inspection. Inspectors said the leadership team shared the head's vision for the school and "support him most ably and wholeheartedly".

Rex Philips, Wales organiser for NASUWT, agrees that awards praising individuals are not always appropriate in the education field.

But Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said some exceptional teachers should be honoured, although he believes it should come closer to home.

In 2008, there was a drive to encourage more nominations for honours from the regions and from the grassroots level. But, in 2009 nominations were down. Critics said the honours system is increasingly outdated.

"The majority of ordinary teachers and classroom assistants rarely get the recognition they deserve," said Dr Dixon.

"Perhaps we could have a system for Wales that would understand the area better and honour people who work here?"

Athletes - based on the success of the Olympic team in Beijing - were seen to be winners, taking eight per cent of all awards. But education still made up 10 per cent of honours. Eleven heads were recommended for honours and 11 teachers and school governors were awarded MBEs.

Mr Newsome said his prestigious award would be effective if it helped his pupils to feel part of a wider international community.

During seven years of headship at Dyffryn Taf, he has encouraged pupils to travel and take part in national competitions; to show they can compete on a world stage.

He has also been a tireless advocate of the Duke of Edinburgh award - taken by 250 of the school's pupils - and fittingly heard he had won the OBE while hiking in the Welsh hills over Christmas.

"We have really engaged in that global citizenship because it improves our pupils' self-confidence and self-belief," he said.

Another of this year's recipients proved the strength of the school community by rallying teachers and pupils after a fire. Ernest Watkins was awarded an MBE for voluntary service to education in Newport, where he is chair of governors at two schools - Rogerstone Primary and Ysgol Bassaleg.

In 2003, a fire destroyed Rogerstone and pupils were moved to a temporary site for several years.

"I saw children who were watching their schoolwork and artwork burning," he said. "I thought: `How do we raise children out of that?' It was a huge task in convincing the powers that be that we needed to build a new school, but we managed it."

Last April, Estyn inspectors praised Mr Watkins for being "a very strong champion on the school's behalf".

Mr Watkins has worked in education most of his life, as a secondary teacher, further and higher education lecturer and a local authority employee. But it was his personal experience of education that made him a passionate advocate for young people to stay in school. "I left school at 15 with no qualifications and it was only after working in industry for a few years that I decided to train as a teacher. I don't want any of our children to leave school without GCSEs; it's much easier to get them in school than out of it."

Elizabeth Taylor - the former high-ranking Welsh education official who retired last year - also received an OBE for services to the public and voluntary sector.

Sir Tim and his title, page 27

Are honours up to date? Page 36.

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