On Friday March 19 pupils at St Monica's Primary in Bootle received a phone call from Colin Richardson, their teacher. "I'm in London and I need your help," said Colin. "We've won an award, and it's going to have to be kept shiny." His Year 5 class erupted in shrieks of delight.
The school had won the Transforming Teaching and Learning category of the RamesysTES 2004 Learning Environment Awards, and Colin's eagerness to share the news with his pupils was in keeping with the spirit of collaboration the awards celebrate.
Launched in autumn last year, the Learning Environment Awards focus on good practice in using ICT to create inclusive and engaging learning environments. There's a strong emphasis on reaching out beyond the classroom, using the power of new technology as a platform for extending learning opportunities, collaborating with partners, and sharing best practice.
Not only do the awards recognise the remarkable achievements of the winners, they were also created as a showcase for sharing good practice among all education professionals. The TES will be featuring case studies of shortlisted entrants over the coming months.
The winners were announced on March 18, at a ceremony held at London's Savoy hotel and attended by Estelle Morris, minister for the arts and chair of the e-Learning Foundation. The winner and runner-up in each of the five award categories gets a pound;3,000 cheque for their school, cluster or LEA. And in recognition of an outstanding achievement, Holy Cross Boys'
Primary, Belfast, winner of the Inclusion and Engagement category, was named as overall Learning Environment School of 2004 (see article, right, for more on Holy Cross).
Bill Donoghue, managing director of Ramesys Education and a member of the judging panel, says: "The standard of entries was exceptionally high. We were impressed by how much collaboration is taking place, often in really ingenious and cost-effective ways. The schools where we found the most impressive examples of collaborative and inclusive learning weren't necessarily those that were spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on ICT. There were some simple but stunningly effective examples of creativity and enterprise."
He says that one important characteristic shared by the winning schools is effective leadership. "There is clearly very strong leadership, which permeates through the school and touches upon everything, not only ICT. The schools have enthusiastic sponsors in both the head and parents."
At Holy Cross, the awards have served to reinforce the wisdom of some brave decisions taken in pursuit of progress. Terry Laverty, the school's principal, says: "Three years ago, our governors agreed that our ICT co-ordinator, Damian Harvey, could be released from his class responsibilities to team-teach in support of colleagues. This award has allowed me to go back to the governors and tell them their decision was hugely important. It was a gamble - we don't have very much money - but Damian's work has been one of the cornerstones of our success.
"The awards have also reinforced the notion of a successful school, which I believe is crucial. As a class teacher, I was very interested in the teaching of reading, and I always found one of the prerequisites for success was pupils' self-esteem. This award has said to people here: 'what we are doing, we are doing well'."
At St Monica's Primary, Colin Richardson, who has blazed a pioneering trail in his use of ICT to support literacy, says: "The awards have validated our work in the classroom. Colleagues are now asking to look at what I did."
In the meantime, Colin's class have set up a rota for polishing their trophy, now displayed proudly in the school foyer.
* Learning Environment School of the Year 2004 Holy Cross Boys' Primary, Belfast
* Extending the Learning Opportunity Winner: William Ransom Primary, Hitchin Runner-up: Lincolnshire LEA
* Inclusion and Engagement
Winner: Holy Cross Boys' Primary, Belfast
Runner-up: Woodlawn School, Whitley Bay
* Sharing Best Practice
Winner: Sir Robert Hitcham's Primary, Framlingham
Runner-up: Cleeve School, Cheltenham
* Collaboration Winner: Portsmouth LEA Ethnic Minority Achievement Service Runner-up: Tonbridge Grammar, Tonbridge
* Transforming Teaching and Learning Winner: St Monica's Primary, Bootle
Runner-up: Kings College for Arts amp; Technology, Guildford
Chairman Professor Stephen Heppell, director, Ultralab
Deputy Lord Mitchell, chairman of Syscap and the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology.
Judges David Burrows, director of education voluntary markets and skills development, Microsoft; Bill Donoghue, managing director, Ramesys
Education; Alan Mills, head of affiliation network, Specialist Schools
Trust; Merlin John, editor, TES Online magazine
A provider of e-learning technologies and services, Ramesys promotes online access to digital materials through its Assimilate e-learning platform.
The awards were also supported by Syscap (www.syscap-education. com); XSIQ (www.xsiq.com) and HP (www.hp.com ukeducation). Next year, some of theLearning Environment awards will be incorporated into the BECTA ICT in Practice Awards, for which Ramesys is the new lead sponsor.