The Pied Piper runs to victory

John King, who jogs to school with pupils, has won the title of Primary School Teacher of the Year. By Richard Garner
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John King is so keen to get to work that he jogs the three miles to his school every morning. In fact, Mr King has been nicknamed the "Pied Piper of Solihull" because pupils join his fun run when he passes their homes on his way to school. A serious runner, Mr King, 52, deputy head of Greswold school in Solihull, was named Primary School Teacher of the Year in the national teaching awards – or "teaching Oscars" as they have become known - which will be screened by BBC1 on 4 November.

His success as one of the dozen national winners announced at an awards ceremony in London's Theatre Royal last weekend was met with delight in education circles – a sign, it is hoped, that primary-school teaching is a man's world as well as a woman's. Fewer than one out of every 100 (0.6 per cent) infant school teachers is male and figures from the Teacher Training Agency show only 13 per cent of teachers throughout primary schools are men.

Having started out as a secondary-school teacher, Mr King moved down the age groups until he settled with infant teaching. He enjoys teaching younger children, he says, because they have a thirst for learning, unlike older ones. And he recognises the importance of being a male role model, especially as many children are from one-parent families where the father figure is missing.

The judges were impressed by his enthusiasm and the innovations he has made to the 630-pupil school. One of his ideas is a scheme to stop pupils being lonely in the playground. It involves some pupils donning a yellow hat; if anyone feels lonely or friendless they can approach the yellow hats and be guaranteed someone to talk to.

Deputy head for 10 years, Mr King was nominated by a parent, Dr Jo Waddell. "Parents have been known to celebrate at the news he is to teach their child." she explains. "One parent said that it was like winning the lottery when we found that his daughter was to be in Mr King's class." Ian Carnell, Greswold's headteacher, adds: "His previous head told me that he had been the best teacher he had ever known and my experience of him has not disproved this assertion."

The winner of the Secondary School Teacher of the Year award was Dave Bennett, head of humanities at Babington technology college in Leicestershire, a school in a deprived urban area and which employs bouncers.

Mr Bennett teaches citizenship – to be introduced as part of the national curriculum next September. He was commended for engaging pupils in the issues they were discussing by hands-on exercises. In one lesson, a piece of string was stretched across the classroom with the word "agree" at one end and "disagree" at the other. A number of moral and ethical questions were put to the pupils. They were invited to pin paper with their initials on it at a point along the line to register how strongly they felt about each issue.

Other winners included Sue Hyland, head of Houghton Kepier school in Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland who becomes Secondary Headteacher of the Year. In all, there were around 4,000 nominations for the awards this year. Organisers hope the number will increase next year when parents and pupils can nominate online for the first time. The Web address is: