Second to none

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Martin Williams keeps his pupils on the edge of their seats with an end-of-lesson quiz called 'Who Wants to be a Historian?' It's just one of the reasons he's been named Secondary Teacher of the Year. Sarah Bayliss reports.

The end of a lesson is as important as the start, as any Ofsted inspector will tell you. If you can sum up what's been taught, check the children have learned it and whet their appetite for the next lesson - that's perfect. A master of this technique is history teacher Martin Williams, whose winning formula is a steal from the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? On comes the soundtrack, up come the visuals on his interactive whiteboard and it's time to play "Who Wants to be a Historian?"

- a swift revision of all the lesson's main points. It's a brilliant strategy and it landed Martin Williams and 30 of his pupils from St Cenydd school, Caerphilly, in a television studio recently.

As regional winner for Wales of Secondary Teacher of the Year, he was invited to Elstree studios to watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire? being recorded. Little did he realise it was all a ploy, being filmed for the BBC's Teaching Awards programme, which goes out on Sunday. Sitting in the hot seat alongside presenter Chris Tarrant, himself a former teacher, Martin Williams suddenly had some questions to answer: "Why do you think you're here today? A) To avoid your pregnant wife B) To skive off a training course C) For a studio tour or D) To win a national teaching award." Stunned, but composed, Mr Williams said he hoped it was D. Chris Tarrant produced the gold Plato teaching award and confirmed his answer. "Yessssss!" screamed St Cenydd's ecstatic pupils, who celebrated all the way home on the coach to Caerphilly.

"He is a phenomenal teacher who got me fascinated in Welsh history in Year 7," says one former A-level student who started at Cardiff University this term. Another says: "When you arrive at his lessons he's got everything sorted and ready to go, and you just want to learn."

Martin Williams was a trainee at St Cenydd six years ago. He stayed as an NQT and today, at 29, he's head of history with a young team of six teachers, plus three students whose training keeps the department lively and well-funded ("That's how we pay for all this," he says, gesturing at the interactive whiteboard, a PC, a VCR and a TV).

History is extremely popular here, with five GCSE classes in the current Year 10, spurred on by a pass rate last year of 79 per cent A*-Cs. Headteacher David Eynon, who describes his school as an "ordinary" comprehensive, says:"He's far and away the best teacher I've ever worked with. It's an absolute treat to watch his lessons and he has a profound influence on the standard of teaching in this school."

As one of four national judges for Secondary Teacher of the Year, I spent a week in early September watching outstanding teachers at work. All were regional winners in the secondary category and most, including Mr Williams, had been nominated by pupils or ex-pupils. Again and again pupils said these were teachers who knew them as individuals, who gave them time, who were calm and fair and never shouted, and who clearly loved their subjects. They were the kind of teachers who would ring your mum to find out why your homework had ground to a halt, or to say hello when you'd been off sick. They were also the kind who just had to nod at the lad wearing earphones in the corridor and he'd quietly whip them off. How could we choose between them?

Mr Williams's classroom oozes history. A First World War helmet sits on a shelf and a Viking's portrait is painted on a cupboard. Everywhere (including the ceiling) are key words and pictures - "feudal", "swastika", "Tudor" - and there is a small notice: "Key word for this lesson: Aryan". Desks are arranged in curved lines of four facing the front (each group is a team for "Who Wants to be a Historian?" which happens later). The aim of the lesson comes up on the whiteboard: "To begin to understand the term propaganda and how it was used in Nazi Germany" - a likely subject for an exam question, says Mr Williams.

He shows Hitler Youth enlistment posters and reminds his class how he "persuaded" them in Year 9 to choose GCSE history. Up pops a spoof poster:

"Join Your Teacher!" with Mr Williams's face and a smiling boy - who turns puce and laughs in the second row. Music comes from wall-mounted speakers - Tubular Bells to introduce an idea, Mission Impossible for writing out an answer. Then there's a three-minute video clip from Cabaret.

Persuasive, engaging, funny, Mr Williams finally launches into the quiz. Each team of four has a white laminated card, a pen and a sponge. To answer the questions on the screen in Millionaire style, they must write A, B, C or D and hold up the card. It's fast and furious with total participation and lots of correct answers.

In Wales, they've known about Mr Williams for a while. All his department's lesson materials are on the web and the inspectorate ESIS encouraged him to research and write History on the Internet - a teacher's guide, published as a book and on CD-Rom by Mid-Glamorgan.

Ask him what he's proudest of and he says St Cenydd's award-winning work on Welsh heritage.

Having watched him teach, the judges feel we've witnessed a lesson of the future by a teacher of the future, albeit about the past. His intellectual skills, organisation and masterful use of ICT are powerful qualities, but he has also come across as a relaxed and natural person who likes children and loves his job. "I feel a bit sick really," jokes the one ex-winner teacher among us, "because he's so bloody good."

All the best

Teaching Award winners 2002 and runners-up

BT Award for Teacher of the Year in a Primary School

Sara Brigg, Castlefields infant school, Brighouse, Calderdale

Regional winners

Steven Chamberlain, Elizabeth Collins, Jean Johnson, Carol Knight, David Lewis, Patricia North, Wendy Nunns, Elizabeth Quinn, Megan Siddley, Maureen Stephenson, Lisa Wedderkop

BT Award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School

Martin Williams, St Cenydd school, Caerphilly, Wales

Regional winners

Ken Ball, Tina Bament, Mary Boyle, Lesley Evans, Nicola Glassby, Jo Howell, Kate Lewis, Kathryn Page, Ian Pape, Doug Paterson, Anna Tingley

BP Award for Science Year

David Mason, Millom school, Cumbria

Regional winners

Kate Aldridge, Jane Attwood, Fiona Blankson, Daniel Bloomfield, Richard Cooper, Catherine Newstead, David Overton, Alison Pearson, Alison Popperwell, Stuart Reeves, Helen Reynolds, John Sandbach, Emma Willmott

Guardian Award for Outstanding New Teacher

Kesner Ridge, Aylesford school, Warwick? Regional winners

Daniel Alliot, Annie Bainbridge, Annie Brunton, Emma Goodwin, Rachel Hayes, Helen Irving, Claire Knox, Madeleine Lewis, Catherine Mayo, Roisin McVeigh, Sandra Mitchell, Sharon Mitchell, Patrick Morrow, Andrew Povey, Caroline Quail, Emily Reed, Joseph Rubba

Award for School and Community Involvement

Robert Huck, Whitehaven school, Cumbria

Regional winners

Sharon Bell, Mick Brett, Angela Ellison, Simon Etheridge, John Hegarty, Jeanette Neale, George Smolinski, Mary Temperton, Jenny Thomas, Jayne Tuczemskyi, Sue Wedgwood, Jean Williams

Lifetime Achievement

Elizabeth Pescops, St Paul's RC primary school, Portsmouth

Regional winners

Bryan Banks, Wally Carter, Carolyn Cranswick, Robert Cunnell, Joe Dunn, Georgina Edwards, Richard English, Patricia W Hall, Bev Horne, Joan Jones, Deirdre Kilner, Joan Lister, Alison Renvoize, Brian Souter, Sue Uffindall, Roger Vavrecka, Sheila Wallis

Leadership Trust Award for School Leadership in a Primary School

Diane Maple, Chantry primary school, Luton, Beds

Regional winners

Gillian Beddow, Delyth Davies, Rosie Giles, Maria Gough, John Hawkins, Jo Hedges, William Houldsworth, Patricia Newbold, Carole Page, Neil Parker, Ann Wood, Alan Woollam

Leadership Trust Award for School Leadership in a Secondary School

Dr Robert Jennings, Slemish College, Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Regional winners

Graham Browne, Douglas Bruce , Angela Duncan, Keith Elms, Peg Hulse , Christopher Lewis, Susan Podd, Marilyn Raine, Alan Roach

Award for Excellence in Special Needs Teaching

Janet Bourne, Lea Valley education support centre, Hertfordshire

Regional winners

Jane Beaumont , David Bennett, Ginny Campbell, Charlotte Davies, Sharon Gabbitas, Michael Hordern, John Irwin, Eddy Jackson, Norman Johnston, Sandra Leathlean, Paul Lord, Jackie Neill, Frits Oostendorp, Roger Perritt, Lynn Shorto, Anne-Marie Smith, Jacqueline Sumner

Award for Teaching Assistant of the Year

Penny Jones, Bexhill high school, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex

For a full list of the 17 TA regional winners, see Friday magazine, October 25

The Teaching Awards 2002 national ceremony is on BBC1, Sunday, 3.10pm. For further information and to register nominations for 2003, visit

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