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Education: ‘They go that extra mile’

21 September 2012

The Pearson Teaching Awards are the official awards for the profession. Pat Ashworth talks to three winners

Regional winner: Luana Munro

Regional winner: Luana Munro

IN THIS year's Pearson Teaching Awards, distinctions and commendations went to three teachers at St Saviour's and St Olave's School, including one for the head teacher, Dr Irene Bishop. But the school's assistant head, Luana Munro, is the regional winner for London and the South-East in the category for Outstanding Use of Technology in Education.

The school, a voluntary aided C of E secondary in Southwark, London, is a popular and oversubscribed school for girls, judged outstanding in its last OFSTED inspection. It accepts students from other faiths, as well as Church of England and other denominations, and many of the students are from lone-parent or low-income families. The proportion of students eligible for free meals is twice the national average, and 50 languages are spoken.

Inspectors praised the school for not resting on the laurels of its previous inspection, but continuing to develop "at an astounding pace".

Ms Munro, who began as a PE teacher and head of lower school, and took on the teaching and development of ICT in its infancy, is described by her colleagues as "the sort of teacher that any head could wish for". They say that no one gives more generously of her time, that she is never fazed by her heavy workload, and that she seems to thrive on challenges.

The data tracking system that she has implemented, to record students' progress in every subject, is credited with making an enormous difference in achievement, supporting an improvement which has seen results rise from 16 per cent of pupils' gaining A-C grades to 73 per cent achieving five A-C grades, with maths and English.

"It's basically about trying to make sure we know where all the students are at," Ms Munro says. "Key Stage Two covers just English and maths, and staff in other subjects felt it really didn't belong to them." The large booklet she produces details expectations in every subject at the end of Years 7, 8, and 9.

"Everybody now has a feeling that this is their result, and that they have ownership of it. The system has the names of students in, and not just the numbers," she emphasises. "What we've tried to do is to major on their level of progress, with an Excel document for Years 10 and 9 that tells you who they are; so that we have humans happening, and not just numbers happening. Sometimes, with data, you lose track of the students, and I hate that."

When asked what makes St Saviour's and St Olave's such a good school, she says "I think we're massively supported. We work hard, but the staff want to work hard, and there is a lot of recognition of staff who want to put themselves out. It's a great environment. It's an enjoyable place, and you enjoy coming to work. And the students are lovely."

OFSTED inspectors reported that teachers in the school "always go the extra mile". It is highly praised for its ethos and value system, which includes outstanding provision for mental health. It all comes down, the school says, to a simple principle: "We never give up on girls."

HUGH CHAMBERS, of St Thomas Boteler Church of England High School, in Warrington, regional winner of the Ted Wragg Award for Lifetime Achievement, laughs when told that a colleague has described him as something of a legend.

"I'm not sure how old you need to be, to be a legend," he says. He has spent all 35 years of his career in the school - which began life as a grammar school - and is credited with "teaching and inspiring thousands of Warrington's young people, as well as the many teachers who have been lucky enough to work alongside him".

He began as a French teacher, was head of languages by the age of 28, and is now deputy head of the school. A passion for motor-vehicle engineering led to his taking on the teaching of design technology. When the school had a new sports hall, eight years ago, his passion for basketball resulted in his single-handedly building up a thriving club with what is said to be "a fearsome reputation for winning". They finished as regional runners-up in last year's English Schools Basketball Competition.

Basketball is an inspiring sport in the school. It has developed into a community activity, and is run every day except high days, including a week's summer school that attracts a mix of boys. For the school players, links are made with academic progress: targets are aimed at increasing points for positive behaviour, and they are encouraged to complete their homework before they go training.

Teachers bring all their skills to the job, he says: all the proficiencies that they build up through their lives. "That's the rewarding thing - that somebody might change what they do in life because of something I showed them."

The school - an 11-16 Specialist Music College, and the most popular school in Warrington - is widely regarded as a centre of excellence in youth leadership. Much of that is down to the work of Mr Chambers, who can remember when children had no voice in schools "except shouting in the corridors".

He has been at the forefront of the development of school leadership and action teams, involving students in governors meetings and staff appointments, and giving them a budget to work with.

"We aim to have about ten per cent of the school directly involved in leadership in one way or another, instead of just a small group of 'good' children," he says. "We want to bring in the ones who are the opinion leaders, and we've had some really choice ones who have turned [their lives] round by being given some responsibility."

He is also closely involved in the mentoring of newly qualified teachers. They used to "sink or swim" in his own early days of teaching, but now benefit from a more structured and professional development system, he says. He identifies the strong staff identity and support at Sir Thomas Boteler as one of the school's great strengths.

"It's why people stay so long, or reluctantly move on. It's a comparatively small staff of 51; so anyone who needs a bit of advice doesn't need to send someone an email and ask for an appointment a week next Tuesday. You just turn to the person next to you and say, 'What do I do about this?'"

There have been times of adversity in the school's history: it had falling rolls after it ceased to be a grammar school; it was forced to work on a split site after amalgamation; and it faced the challenge of open enrolment. But all this engendered a Dunkirk spirit, Mr Chambers says, that has passed from generation to generation.

The school's other strengths, he says, are that students are appreciative of what is done for them, and that parents are happy for the school - motto: Our School Cares - to be in loco parentis. "They give us a lot of trust, and hopefully we live up to what they're looking for."

Colleagues describe Mr Chambers as "appreciated, respected, and loved by pupils past and present, parents, staff, teachers, and governors. He is a consummate professional, completely reliable, and demanding the highest standards of himself while inspiring others to aim high and achieve their full potential. He is simply an exceptional education professional."

The Teaching Awards, Mr Chambers says, are a celebration of the profession, not just a pinpointing of a few pockets of excellence around the country.

At a reception at Westminster, in July, he met all the other regional award winners. "The funny thing is, I was thinking that if we suddenly took one of these people out, and substituted one of my colleagues, would anyone really notice?

"To me, that wasn't 50 people getting it really right, and the rest trying to live up to that, but that if these were typical of teachers in schools today, then that was a really good reflection on our profession. What binds us together is wanting to work alongside young people. That's a really nice thing."

THE assistant head of St Mary Redcliffe and Temple Church of England School, Bristol, Ian Taylor, was the individual winner for the south-west region of Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School. The only voluntary aided school in the city, it is a large, high-achieving 11-18 school, recognised for a consistently high quality of teaching that gained it an "Outstanding" rating in this year's OFSTED inspection.

The head, Elisabeth Gilpin, praises Mr Taylor for his contribution. "Every part of the school is affected by Ian's impact. Ian is a brilliant educational thinker who creates simple but effective ways to make learning more engaging for students," she says.

Mr Taylor is known for his "Take Five" learning objectives to engage students in every lesson across the school; the five words that would describe Mr Taylor, the school says, are: "'Visionary, talented, innovative, perceptive, and creative'. Ian inspires others by leading focused training days, and generously sharing his bank of 150 model lessons."

Mr Taylor teaches history in a school with humanities as its specialist school status, and is also line manager for literacy and vocational learning.

Every month, he invites 100 different students to write personalised "Thank you" messages to their teachers and support staff, and then shares these responses with staff. The one with the most thank-yous gets a box of chocolates. "It's even more fitting, then," says the head teacher, "that he gets this award for his outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of so many students."

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