Although you may have seen our televised awards Ceremony on BBC2 each October, or our Gold Winner announcements on the One Show this year, you may not know what goes on behind the scenes to pick each of the winners.

One of our judges has put together a Pearson National Teaching Awards myth-buster. Have a read and by the end we hope you will have decided who you would like to nominate for an award this year!

Busting the Teaching awards myths

“The Teaching Awards are a popularity contest”

We do know that there are awards out there which rely on a certain number of nominations or votes to win. Encouraging friends and family to text numbers to vote for their winner. This can, understandably, cause some embarrassment from nominees. However, the Teaching Awards does NOT follow any such format. Let me explain a little bit of the process to lay this one to rest and put some of the later information in context:

Direct entries for the awards can only come from schools, colleges to their stakeholders, but members of the public can send a Thank You card. These cards act as a springboard for the awards – we write to the heads in schools where teachers have received a card and ask them if they want to progress this thank you and enter those teachers for an award.

Anyone can send a thank you card, for example another teacher in a school, the headteacher, they also frequently come to us from pupils and parents, governors and even local businesses who have worked alongside schools.

This process is quick and easy, a short web form, it’s free and we email out a lovely Thank You card and a link to read the personalised message.

Entry forms for the awards are submitted by the Headteacher (or another senior leader as appropriate especially in the Headteacher categories) with details fleshing out what makes this person or team so special. This can include, but is not limited to, information from their working life at their current school and also any work they do engaging with their community, supporting others and even work they do online to spread their knowledge and skills.

Once we have the full entry forms completed the shortlisting process begins. This goes through two phases. Once with the Teaching Awards head office team, then with the category judges. Our judges are mostly previous winners so have seen both sides of this process themselves. All judges work voluntarily for the Teaching Awards and several have done so for many years.

Once the shortlist is ready we inform schools that the judging team will be making a visit to see the nominees and look at further evidence to substantiate the application. At this point we are celebrating the shortlisted teams and people for their success so far.

From these visits, and meetings with the judging panels, shortlisted nominees may be awarded either a Highly Commended Certificate or a Silver Teaching Award. These are all announced on Thank a Teacher Day in June.

All winners of a Silver Teaching Award are considered for the overall Gold Teaching Award (one per category), which is the one you see being presented on the BBC in October. This whole process starts in October and ends in October. Entries will close in February 2021 for this year and we will be starting the shortlisting process. We hope this explanation shows you that this is a rigorous process and NOT a popularity contest!

“You only want to see “flashy” teaching so it looks good on TV”

Each year the awards ceremony has been televised and broadcast as Britain’s Classroom Heroes on BBC2. In October 2020 the format changed to being aired on the One Show due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The TV show in October is entertainment and there is a certain element of that which means that footage may be selected to show “exciting” lessons such as scientific explosions and history lessons re-enacting life in the trenches. However, the filming stage is the very end of the process explained above and we DO NOT expect to see flashy teaching at any point of our judging visits. The televised footage you see in October is filmed after judging visits have taken place. We film at a number of finalist schools to ensure secrecy of the winners until the night but the decisions are not made based on any such footage. In fact, some of the teaching I remember most fondly from judging did not involve anything you would consider flashy at all.

I remember vividly watching a teacher working in a school near an army base, so children would often arrive for a few months then leave again and often came in with lower than average results. This teacher worked absolute miracles with them. Looking through the pupil books you would think they showed progress of a child from Year 1 to Year 6, when in fact it covered just 2 or 3 months – such was the impact of this teacher. But watching her was simply a masterclass in cool, calm collected teaching with strong subject knowledge, coupled with superb assessment skills meaning she knew what every child needed as their next step. She was a Silver Award Winner that year and the Gold Winner of the year was also not someone I would say was “flashy” but someone who had impacted a great deal on not just her own class but across her school and beyond.

As with the Ofsted myth-busting information I will happily state that we have no “preferred style” of teaching and have been suitably impressed over the years by teachers across a range of styles and subjects as well as multiple key stages and school types.

“You only want to see state maintained schools/ academies/ free schools/ private schools”

I have had to write many versions of this as the myth varies by school type! We have absolutely no preference. We have shortlisted and visited a variety of schools including, but not limited to, state-maintained schools, SEND schools, all-through academies, infant-only schools, middle schools, hospital schools, prison schools, FE colleges, University Technical Colleges, free schools, Steiner schools….the list goes on. Awards are given out based on the merits of the individual/school team based on the category.

“You only want to see Ofsted Outstanding schools”

Again, we have no preference in school gradings from Ofsted. That is not to say we would ignore anything that Ofsted saw as a failing in safeguarding, for example, and we do perform due diligence for as far as is reasonable and expected under our awarding remit, the needs of which will vary based on category.

However a wonderful TA, for instance, can easily operate well within an RI or Inadequate Ofsted school. In fact, their work and presence might be making all the difference and that is the basis on which we would be looking to award.

“A Teaching Award singles out one person. We all do a great job”

This is a really tricky one as any individual award does, of course, single out one person to a degree. However, we make every visit a celebration and we firmly believe that great members of staff thrive when placed in great teams who enable them to. We do not go out to congratulate an individual teacher or staff member in this way.

We also have our Making a Difference – School of the Year categories, which recognise the whole school, and our new Impact through Partnership category aimed at schools and organisations working together across trusts, partnerships, MATs or working with external organisations.

We do get thank you messages from pupils and parents about individual teachers who have really gone the extra mile. In some cases these teachers have changed, and even saved, lives. In other cases, they are happily nominated by the whole staff as they are improving lives of their colleagues too or inspiring them.

However, when it comes to the award itself it is never just the nominee who benefits. Those who have gone through the process see that the award becomes a real source of pride for every parent and pupil in that school community, as well as the other staff. No teacher is an island and we have yet to meet any who do not realise, value, and extol the virtues of the team surrounding them.

We also very strongly feel that what the Teaching Awards has been doing for 21 years now, is celebrating the whole profession. The team who work at the Teaching Awards do so out of love for the profession. The BBC put the TV show on every year to extol the virtues of teaching as a profession. It really is central to the mission of the Teaching Awards. Yes it requires individuals to be put forward, but year on year we see multiple people put forward from the same schools as once someone has an award there the parents and pupils realise they can recognise more. So it does spread far past one person every time.

“We need to pay to enter or attend the ceremony”

No. It’s all free for everyone. The Teaching Awards is a charity and has been since its inception by Lord Puttnam. Sponsorship over the years has changed but for several years has been provided by Pearson, hence our name change, but the values have always stayed the same.

There are no costs to anyone entering or to the school. No nominee needs to pay to attend the ceremony held in their honour. In fact they are treated like royalty and we want them to feel like VIPs. The Teaching Awards is totally profit-free. The judges are all voluntary. Pearson and any award sponsors are doing so as part of the mission to raise up the teaching profession. It won’t cost you a penny to enter.

If you do get as far as the October ceremony you will be our VIP guests and nothing less!


“We need to be Pearson customers to enter”

Nope. Any school can enter anyone.

The Teaching Awards have been running for 21 years. Pearson came on board as a sponsor several years ago as the headline sponsor, for which we are very grateful. This does not change the basis of the Teaching Awards though and you do not need to have any link to Pearson in order to enter. The Teaching Awards team, who organise the awards from entries through to presentation, are not employees of Pearson and are made up of much the same core team as they have been for many years.

“The judges visits will make the staff on edge like Ofsted so we don’t want to put them through it”

We really are not Ofsted and have no wish to follow similar inspection rules. At the point that a shortlisted candidate is visited we are celebrating what is already a phenomenal achievement. Our judges stay for 3 hours and that will include meeting the nominee(s), speaking with staff and students, meeting with parents and governors and anyone else the school wish us to see etc. However we make sure that, although everyone feels a few nerves, we put everyone at ease. Big smiles and warm faces!

We love visiting schools to see the brilliant work going on. For all of us it’s the highlight of our year. Most of the judges have also been through the process from the other side so are very good at making it an enjoyable experience. It is an opportunity to show off the very best at your school but we are never there to look for any negatives, simply to get further evidence on what we have already loved on your entry forms. We even get a fair few hugs as we leave – but they aren’t compulsory either!

If you have been sitting on the fence wondering whether to enter a colleague or member of your school community please do go for it! We want to celebrate as many schools as we can across the UK. Make sure your brilliant colleagues get seen! If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to get in touch.