Animation is a rich medium for learners. Pete Johnson was on the inside track at the NSFA Awards

Pennar's animation: 'charming'From Welsh language folk tales to a documentary on teenage pregnancy, from simple clay animation to high-definition social commentary worthy of the big screen, the third National Schools Film and Animation Awards (NSFA) celebrated a wealth of storytelling, creativity and high-end production, all created in schools around the UK.

The charming Bysgota, Y Crocodeil a Caws! (right) animated movie from Pennar School won the the key stage 1 animation category. Take a think before you drink (below), from Clifton Community Arts School in Rotherham, picked up the key stage 4 film award and delivered a stark warning about teenage drinking that was made more poignant by the fact the message was created by the target audience's peers.

Selected by a panel chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE , the awards, sponsored by TAG Learning, were announced in a special broadcast on SchoolsTube. More than 90 schools from more than 11 local authorities provided entries for the awards scheme. The winners announcement and judging day videos can be viewed here on the SchoolsTube free video service for schools.

'Our judges were overwhelmed and excited by the talent and enthusiasm'

After lengthy and sometimes passionate discussion, Floella Benjamin’s judges shortlisted three entrants for each of 11 categories, covering the production of film, animation and mixed media from key stage 1 to 4. A secret ballot by the judges then selected the winner for each category.

Our judges were overwhelmed and excited by the talent and enthusiasm of the young students, their teachers and the local authorities involved in making each and every film. Digital video is a critical element in engaging young people with hands-on technology, allowing them to become producers of their own content as well as consumers. The use of video and animation breaks down barriers for students who may have struggled in the past with traditional ways of  communication, and it also engages everyone in creative ways of thinking and doing.

I have been on the panel of the judges since the beginning of the awards back in 2009 and it has been fascinating to see how film making has progressed since then. In that time video-recording equipment has become much more affordable and far superior in quality. Low-resolution grainy films have evolved into vibrant, colourful high-definition stories.

Clifton Community Arts School: grittyWhat is interesting is that at the heart of the successful films was the storytelling. The technique and quality of the film-making is of course important, but only if it helps to tell the tale, to deliver the atmosphere and to lead the viewer. We saw some great examples of simply told films created using older equipment that were superior to some made using sophisticated techniques and kit. It was evident that substance before style delivered the winning formula.

This really says something about the use of technology in education. What extra element does it bring to what we are trying to achieve? Film-making gives all students the opportunity to express themselves but more so to work together, to plan, to execute and deliver their ideas, views and aspirations. Is a roughly made but student-led project more valuable than a slick teacher-led, high-value production? The best scenario is probably somewhere in the middle, and it is no mean feat to deliver this successfully.

Film-making doesn't have to be all about storytelling of course. I have recently been working on a project with Ashfield Park Primary School in Herefordshire on developing a video-led curriculum blog that asks the school pupils to deliver mathematics methods used in school to encourage a consistent approach both at school and at home. The way I was taught maths in the 1970s is different to the way my daughter is taught now. Embracing simple use of video on the school website helps deliver a consistent and engaging message to the whole school community.

'A brilliant example of real, engaging education across the whole curriculum'

The raft of animation software and tools now available also gives a great opportunity to encourage imagination and demonstrate real understanding of concepts. It becomes particularly beneficial when working with young people with special education needs, allowing them to explore scenarios difficult to reach otherwise and to give them their own voice.

What really struck me about the really successful videos we shortlisted and judged was that here was a brilliant example of real, engaging education across the whole curriculum with the young people at the centre of the learning and their educators steering their creativity. Long may it continue and long may education professionals have the opportunity to develop their own film-making skills.

Each winning school receives a selection of education software and services from awards sponsors Reallusion (creator of Crazy Talk, Crazy Talk Animator and iClone), Sherston Software and SchoolsTube.

Rotherham adviser for digital technologies Barrie Morgan, commented: “Winning at a local level is fantastic for both the teachers and children. Winning at the 'Nationals' takes it to another level. The National Film and Animation Awards is a real driver for further developing creativity and motivating learners. It's also a great opportunity to measure yourself against the best across the country."

More information

The awards judges, led by broadcaster Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, included Jack Kenny, Dave Tidman, Chris Drage, Pete Johnson, Trevor Millum, Jen Skinner, Sally McKeown, Fran Greenaway, Merlin John and Peter Cope.

View the video of the judging day chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin
View the winners announcements presented by Baroness Floella Benjamin
View all of the shortlisted films at SchoolsTube - a safe video sharing service for education settings.

The winners for the National Schools Film and Animation awards are as follows – click on the school name to watch the winning film on SchoolsTube
Pennar CP School, Pembrokeshire – KS1 Animation
Sitwell Infant School, Rotherham – KS1 Film
Lisle Marsden C of E Primary School, North East Lincs - KS2 Animation
Sageston CP School, Pembrokeshire – KS2 Film
St. Teilo's RC School, Pembrokeshire – KS2 Mixed Media
Newman School, Rotherham – KS3 Animation
Clifton Community Arts School, Rotherham – KS3 Film
Rawmarsh Community School, Rotherham – KS3 Mixed Media
Ysgol y Preseli, Pembrokeshire – KS4 Animation
Clifton Community Arts School, Rotherham – KS4 Film
Portfield Special School, Pembrokeshire – SEMERC Special Award

About TAG Learning
Established in 1988, TAG Learning (TAG) is a leading independent publisher and supplier of best-of-breed creative educational software tools and peripherals. TAG Learning is part of BLi Education Ltd.

Pete JohnsonPete Johnson formerly worked with awards sponsor TAG learning, and is now a freelance technology trainer and consultant. You can find him at

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