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Chalk Talk: The class act recognised for getting Japanese in schools


In a week in which the European Union Education Commissioner has been berating the UK for its approach towards learning foreign languages, it's good to see a language teacher winning the national award for teaching in a secondary school.

Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou told us last week that the "why should I bother?" (because everyone speaks English) approach just won't wear any more.

If she walked down the high street in Tavistock in the heart of Devon, she might be surprised by what she found.

Crispin Chambers, a teacher at the local comprehensive, isn't just a language teacher – he has almost single-handedly put learning Japanese on the map of the English education system.

At Tavistock, thanks to his enthusiasm for Japanese, children start learning the language from the beginning of their secondary schooling, an annual exchange trip to Tokyo has been arranged, and more than 80 per cent of pupils gain an A*- to C-grade pass in the subject at GCSE.

The Japanese embassy describes the "great effect" he has had on the uptake of the language in the UK – he has been a significant influence on most of the 300 schools now teaching the subject around Britain. In addition, he has been personally involved in setting up Japanese departments in five other secondary schools, and 16 primary schools also use his expertise. He has long had a passion for the language – and his brother lives in Japan.

The Teaching Awards, now sponsored by Pearson, have been a feature of the educational landscape for 15 years and are conducted with much of the glitter of the Oscars. (The ceremony will be shown on BBC2 on Sunday.) Teachers, it seems, have nothing on their noisy pupils (let alone the audiences of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor) when it comes to expressing their emotions as their colleagues win.

In all, there were 10 award winners – including science teacher Sean Hardeley, from Holy Cross Catholic High School, in Chorley, Lancashire, who won the award for outstanding new teacher. The news came as a big surprise to Mr Hardeley, who had been conducting a Question of Sport session for his pupils during which, when the answer to one question was correctly given as Mo Farah, the Olympic athlete suddenly appeared and announced that he had won the award.