BETT may steal the ICT glory but ERA winners also reflect ‘the very best in education’

Ray Barker and Dominic SavageLeaving a gap: Ray Barker with BESA's Dominic SavageThe schools market, like the national economy, may be extremely challenging, but there was no shortage of top-quality ICT products and services at the Education Resources Awards (ERA) in Birmingham.

The ICT standouts were Traditional Storyteller apps from Day Two Productions, the LearnPad (Android tablet) from Avantis Systems, Twig Science, from Twig-IT, The Fairy Tales, from SEN Assist, SIMS Discover from Capita, TTS Group Ltd and BESA outgoing director Ray Barker who was given a standing ovation when he picked up his special award for lifetime achievement.

Ray Barker's award was a new one, tucked in as a surprise at the very end of the Education Resources Awards. And if anyone had grown weary during the long awards list beforehand they certainly didn't show it. The standing ovation was spontaneous and heartfelt. He had served BESA as director for 12 years, responding to a wide range of interests, some conflicting, in a diverse education community going through deep changes. He retires from his BESA role in June.

Refreshing to have an industry leader who is also an accomplished educator

If the regular demands of the day job weren't enough for Ray Barker there were also the daunting political challenges, like the BBC Jam controversy and the total failure or the Coalition Government to recognise the importance of technology and innovation in education to reinvent a beleaguered UK plc. And safely steering the BETT Awards through Becta sponsorship and beyond was a major achievement in itself.

At the heart of it was Ray Barker's commitment to inclusion and fair play that had to sit diplomatically next to the now defunct quango's notorious fear of risk and the new which led to curious (at the very least) shortlisting that was always liable to slip down into ridicule or scandal– anyone remember Becta's "Three Little Cowboy Builders" debacle?.

It was refreshing to have an industry leader who was also an accomplished educator. As BESA director general Dominic  Savage explained: “Starting his career as a teacher, Ray is also an author, has worked in education publishing, ran the Docklands Education Project for the London Docklands Development Corporation and managed an education action zone before moving on to his position as director of BESA. There are very few people here tonight who have not experienced Ray’s drive in the nurturing of their careers and their businesses. Quite simply, supporting everyone’s aspirations within education is in Ray’s blood.”

ERA Twig teamWinning Twig team at the Education Resources AwardsRay Barker's outgoing verdict on the awards? “The ERAs are judged by an independent panel of education experts, all teaching and learning professionals, providing peace of mind to the UK’s teachers that the judging process is robust. The chosen winners reflect the needs of the education sector right now, detailing innovative and cost-effective resources, exemplary companies and proven approaches. They should be seen as representing the very best in education.”

That has been the consistent feedback for Twig Science – more than 600 top-quality films and support materials, including diagrams and quizzes, designed for key stage 3 as well as GCSE – which had already won the Secondary Digital Award at BETT 2012. Not bad for an outfit that first appeared on the BETT scene in 2011.

The most obvious asset of the winners of ERA's Best Secondary Resource including ICT category is the sheer quality of the Twig Science video materials carefully selected for classroom use. They engage teachers as well as students (see teacher Sue Branson's review at "Twig Science roots well for a multimedia curriculum"). 

Clever tagging makes for natural links for learning

What isn't obvious about Twig videos is the sophisticated underlying linking and tagging that allows teachers and learners to follow their investigations across the curriculum – the way learning really works when unencumbered by dull practice and institutional boundaries. This will become more and more important as Twig's portfolio grows and users can discover the pleasure of serendipity as they jink across topics and themes.

One of the next subjects to be released by Twig will be maths and the company was previewing clips at the Big Bang Fair, a huge education event packed out by thousands of children next door to the Education Show in Birmingham. Twig's use of everyday examples to engage learners is well exemplified by the clip below explaining how the UK used relatively simple geometry to find the best ways to protect its Atlantic convoys as they faced certain, deadly attacks by Germany's U-boats.

For a subject like maths where the visual is extremely important, the combination of authentic newsreel and dynamic explanation of the relationship between area and circumference is powerful and memorable.

Awards recognise the emergence of digital tablets in schools

The massive interest in digital pads generated by Apple's iPad has opened up opportunities for rival technologies and Avantis Systems might have picked up an ERA award for Best Primary Resource – ICT for its LearnPad Android tablet (see "Avantis puts Android Tablets within reach of schools") but it is making new friends right across education. Secondary school leaders and teachers were among the interested parties that thronged around its stand at BETT 2012.

Nik TusonAvantis managing director Nik Tuson at BETT 2012They were impressed by the low-cost LearnPad tablets and accessories they saw but what intrigued them most was the sophisticated, web-based management tool available, along with a huge store of appropriate and popular classroom materials from the likes of Espresso, Education City and Sherston. These are simply not available for schools using Apple's scene-setting iPads because Apple refuses to allow users access to any materials or websites using Adobe's flash technology.

The Avantis management system allows schools to simply set permissions for all their LearnPads. Schools that want to tweak the Android system for their needs can do so: if they favour a more draconian lock-down they can do that too. It's entirely down to the customer.

Jaws visibly sagged when Avantis managing director Nik Tuson demonstrated at BETT how QR codes can also be used to implement those settings, whether for individual learners, classes, year groups or whole school. You simply point the LearnPad's camera at a QR code and it instantly resets the device.

This control system is also available for mobile phones and opens up the prospect of a student pointing his or her mobile phone camera at a QR code when entering school for it to allowed the appropriate level of access to the school's network facilities (it can switch off aspects of the phone too). The student could then pass it over the QR code on the way out to unlock any restrictions the school may have imposed.

Great stories are building blocks for learning

Special needs is an area of education that consistently generates innovative products and services, particularly for communication and expression. Like most astute SEN software, The Fairy Tales, from SEN Assist (winner of ERA's Best SEN Resource of Equipment including ICT category) is captivating for all children (including children with English as a second language). These fairy tales are interactive multimedia storybooks on Windows CD-Roms designed by a husband-and-wife team Quentin (designer and animator) and Adele Devine (veteran special needs teacher), based in Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

They want their stories to be used in early intervention strategies to keep children with special needs and autism happilyh ensconced in their classrooms. They have worked with the National Autism Association and have enjoyed positive feedback from as far afield as the USA.

Each CD-Rom has a story and 24 learning activities along with swtich access, symbols and printable resources. Children can pick their own on-screen "teacher" from 48 motivational characters, and the content makes repetitive use of the National curriculum's 100 high-frequency words. In short, The Fairy Tales have bveen designed and tested by special needs teachders – and it shows.

Professional storytellers bring added impact for world stories

Traditional Storyteller‘Traditional Storyteller’: world stories made mobileAn important factor for intensifying the power of storytelling is the use of professional storytellers, and that's the unique selling point of the winner of ERA's Best Early Years Resource including ICT category, Traditional Storyteller apps from Day Two Productions. These video recordings of stories from around the world originally started life on CD-Roms but are now available, complete with games, as inexpensive apps for iPads and iPod Touches for anywhere any time learning.

World stories are a favourite classroom resource of reviewer Chris Drage and he was delighted by his experience with these productions. Here's what he wrote: "There’s nothing like storytelling to let the words paint rich pictures in the children’s minds, encouraging discussion; developing speaking and listening skills and providing great motivation for reading and writing, even in the early years.

"Stories offer bountiful opportunities for literacy, drama, art, and other creative activities across the curriculum: children can do their own re-telling; analyse the story structure; discuss the characters; hot seat; make storyboards and, of course, simply enjoy the shared experience of a good story!

"By utilising ICT in the form of DVDs and apps, Day Two Productions has successfully bonded one of the most ancient and lasting forms of human expression with modern technology." (See his full review at "Weave cross-cultural magic with 'The Story Spinner'".

Ease of use finally makes it to Management Information Systems

Although pupil information is crucial for schools and for raising standards, school Management Information Systems have never won beauty contests for software. The best that used to be said of them was that they could work – if schools and their teachers persisted. Then, all of a sudden, Capita started talking about ease of use and interface design, terms that had never been associated with SIMS.

Capita's change of focus has been rewarded by the widespread welcome for SIMS Discover, an easy-to-use "dashboard" that helps school managers and teachers slice and dice the information they need – and quickly. As soon as Discover appeared the unsolicited recommendations started coming in so the ERA Innovation gong is not a surprise.

The Education Show, with its massive range of school resources on offer, has never had a particularly strong reputation for ICT. But as its EMAP organisers work to refocus the show and make it better reflect the embedding of technology in classrooms, the 2012 Educational Resources Awards clearly demonstrate the presence of world class resources. And that's excellent material for EMAP to work with.

Education Resources Award winners 2012 

Best Early Years Resource of Equipment – non ICT
Time to Talk Baskets, TTS Group Ltd  
Best Early Years Resource or Equipment including ICT
Traditional Storyteller Apps, Day Two Productions
Best Primary Resource or Equipment – non ICT 
Jolly Back Chair and service, Jolly Back  
Best Primary Resource or Equipment including ICT
Learnpad from Avantis, Avantis Systems
Best Secondary Resource or Equipment – non ICT
Investigating Spoken Language, English and Media Centre
Best Secondary Resource or Equipment including ICT
Twig Science
Best SEN Resource or Equipment – non ICT 
Dockside Reading Scheme, Rising Stars
Best SEN Resource of Equipment including ICT           
The Fairy Tales, SEN Assist
Educational Book Award
Special Games, LDA 
Supplier of the Year less than £1 million
Crossbow Education Ltd
Supplier of the Year £1million to £3 million
Smart Kids UK Ltd  
Supplier of the Year over £3 million
The Consortium 
Leadership in Education  
Jan Lewanowski and Maggie Constable, Languages Consultants, Bedford     
Establishment of the Year
All Saints Catholic School, Barking and Dagenham
Marketing Campaign of the Year
Staedtler, Staedtler (UK) Teachers’ Club
Education Exporter of the Year  
TTS Group Ltd 
SIMS Discover, Capita SIMS
Outstanding Achievement  
Mike Bird, R G Gray Ltd
Lifetime Achievement
Ray Barker, BESA

More information

Education Resources Awards 2012 
Interest declared: Avantis Systems, mentioned above, is an advertiser on this site. That does not affects coverage.
The Education Resources Awards are sponsored by Berol, Findel Education, Hope Education and supported by the National Association of Head Teachers, The Schools Network, nasen and UK Trade & Investment.

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