The Izbicki Report: News from the Front Line of Education

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The Independent Online
Named and famed

Only 11 days to go before the creme de la creme of the teaching profession will be revealed to us. The agony of waiting will be over. And the teachers who will be named and famed will receive standing ovations at Ally Pally on Sunday week.

I am of course referring to the 1999 Teaching Awards, launched last September. All schools were asked, via their governing bodies, to nominate their favourite teacher. More than 1,000 schools submitted 500-word summaries in praise of Miss or Sir, along with letters from parents, their staffroom colleagues, heads and, yes, the customers - the pupils.

Up to four finalists in each of 10 regions and in each of 15 categories were picked by judging panels, including Judith Judd, education editor of The Independent, and will collect pounds 500 apiece for their schools. Then came regional overall winners who collect pounds 3,500 - again for their school - plus an invite to the national ceremony on 11 July, to be broadcast live by BBC2.

On that evening the Top Teacher in each of 14 categories will be named. These include not only best teacher in a primary, secondary and special school, but also a Railtrack Award for Excellence in Special Needs (primary and secondary) and a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Each victor's school will receive pounds 20,000. But they will carry home (nice touch, this) a very fine bust of the philosopher's philosopher, Plato.

My own awards go to David Puttnam, the film producer, and to Lloyds TSB. The entire project, which hopes to reinject the profession with some of the morale it has lost through the sadistic naming and shaming of schools, was Lord Puttnam's brainchild, and he chaired the working party, which designed it.

As for Lloyds TSB - well, the bank put up a large chunk of the cash.

Woodhead's successor

Although Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, has just had his contract extended to the year 2004, but those in the know are already talking about his successor. Top of the list is Peter Mortimore. He would, of course, be an excellent choice. Professor Mortimore is director of the Institute of Education, University of London.

Second on the shortlist, I understand, is David Hargreaves, another excellent chap. He was chief inspector at the Inner London Education Authority until it was killed off, when he became professor of education and a fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.

Telling it all

Rachel Gaffin is 32 but looks 15 - which, for an actress recapturing the words of children, is a decided advantage. When she was 28 she played the title role in The Diary of Anne Frank.

For Rachel the experience kindled a flame to keep alive the memory of the million children who perished in the Holocaust. She collected diaries written by other young Jewish children and turned them into a most moving play whose title, I Will Tell, is a line from one of those diaries.

Last week I sat among 150 teenage girls at Notre Dame High School, a Roman Catholic comprehensive in London's Southwark, to watch Rachel re- enacting the words of three young girls and one boy, of whom only one survived the barbarism of Hitler's "ethnic cleansing".

The youngsters who had written their diaries in such vivid, simple detail, were the same age as those squatting on Notre Dame's library floor. And, judging by the tears in the eyes of some of them, they had listened and identified.

Details from Rachel Gaffin, Echoes Theatre Company, Tel: 0973-969269.

Born, bred 'n' begowned

When Penelope Harris marched up the aisle of Guildford Cathedral a couple of weeks ago to receive her University of Surrey degree, she became the first graduate who was born on the same campus. Not only that. Her dad, Stephen Harris, also graduated from Surrey. And so did her brother, Kit. As for mum, she started a PhD there but was too busy teaching to complete it.

Any more? Well, Dr Robert Blundell, who attended her as a baby, is today mayor of Guildford, home of the university. Penelope, 22, graduated in French and European studies with Spanish. Her father, the university's safety adviser, graduated from Battersea College of Technology (the CAT that became Surrey University),with a PhD in radiation studies from Surrey, where he became campus warden and lecturer. Kit took a BEng in mechanical engineering.

The rise of Warwick

My hearty congratulations to Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), who's been elevated to a Labour working peerage.

I am sure that The Baroness Warwick - who also happens to be a member of the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life - will be as excellent at her new task as she is at everything else.

But not all CVCP members share my enthusiasm. Some of them are already asking whether taking the Labour whip in the House of Lords might not present something of a conflict of interests. There are, after all, a number of Tory and Lib-Dem vice-chancellors at large.

And finally...

While we're with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, a strange notice has appeared on the gatepost of its Woburn House headquarters - a copy of a planning application to the London Borough of Camden to install "comfort cooling" in some of the building's offices.

But, on closer inspection, it is not an application from the CVCP but from one of its tenants - the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP).

So SCOP, the umbrella body of the country's colleges of higher education, is going to be "cool", while the umbrella body of our universities will continue to produce hot air.

Plus ca change!

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