Thursday, June 18, 1998 Published at 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Teacher 'Oscars' aim to boost staffroom morale
Lord Puttnam wants the awards to reflect the importance of teaching
A national award scheme to recognise the best teachers in England has been launched, with the winners set to feature in a televised prize-giving ceremony.
The brainchild of Oscar-winning film producer Lord Puttnam, the awards will "celebrate excellence" among the teaching profession, with the aim of boosting teachers' morale and improving the profession's unglamorous image.
"Teachers certainly feel under-appreciated. They have a challenging job which has faced a series of difficult changes and it seemed screamingly obvious to me that there was a need for a celebration of what teachers can achieve," said Lord Puttnam, who is a member of the Government's Education Standards Task Force.
"Education is uniquely both the cause and consequence of our national prosperity. Without well-motivated teachers our future success as a nation must remain uncertain," Lord Puttnam said.
Despite the importance of education to Britain's economic future, Lord Puttnam said that many teachers were working "in conditions that wouldn't be acceptable to people working in the private sector", with their achievements remaining unacknowledged.
"Years of neglect" wouldn't be resolved by the awards ceremony, he said, but it would begin to reflect the importance of teachers' responsibilities.
Drawing comparisons with the higher status of the medical profession, he said that the country had to decide whether it could afford to give a lower status to the educational health of the nation than to its physical health. The teaching awards, Lord Puttnam hoped, would contribute towards a "total re-appraisal of the role of schools".
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The awards scheme has been welcomed by the leading political parties and teaching unions.
"The work and challenges that fall to teachers are some of the most important in society. Their work with young people shapes generations to come, and all too often remains unrecognised," Mr Blunkett said.
Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts said that the awards will "raise the morale of teachers by recognising and respecting their professionalism".
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, applauded the initiative as a "magnificent way of recognising achievements by teachers".
Under the award scheme, school governors and parents at all English schools will be able to nominate staff for 15 categories of award in regional and national finals, which will be staged for the first time in September 1999.
As well as primary and secondary teacher of the year, there will be awards for the best new teachers; the most creative use of information and communications technology; best classroom assistant; working with parents and the community; and a lifetime achievement award. The amount of money that will come with the awards has yet to be decided.
The national judging panel will be chaired by the former chairman of ICI, Sir John Harvey Jones.
Both regional and national award ceremonies will be covered by BBC television and radio.
The awards will be administered by a charitable trust, the Teaching Awards Trust, to be chaired by Lord Puttnam and backed over two years by £3m from Lloyds TSB Bank.