It started with a phone call. It was Justin Cohen from Jewish News with an idea for an awards event for Jewish schools.

Coincidentally we had been discussing a very similar idea. We agreed to join forces, with Jewish News reaching the community and Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) working with schools and running the event. 

It is hard to believe that this was five years ago, and last week we celebrated our fifth and biggest Jewish Schools Awards.

During this time we have recognised outstanding and inspiring staff, and celebrated talent, expertise and dedication and the achievements of teachers, staff and volunteers.

The community is good at celebrating the outstanding achievements of our schools, as year on year they perform towards the top of the league tables. However, what we too often miss is that this excellence is only achieved due to the tireless efforts of those working in schools. The Jewish School Awards is the opportunity for parents, grandparents, students and even colleagues to say thank you.

Each year we ask for nominations in different categories at both primary and secondary levels. It is hard to express our excitement when nominations start pouring in. They are assessed, shortlisted, further references obtained and two panels of judges then select the finalists and the winners.

The aura in JW3 in the first year of the awards was indescribable as the community gathered to celebrate our wonderful teachers. So successful were they that a generous benefactor passed a note to me and Jonathan Goldstein, at the time the chair of PaJeS, to say he would like to increase the prize money, ensuring every finalist received £1,000 and each winner £5,000. The funds were to be spent on projects in the school. Now, five years on, we have numerous initiatives, run by some of our most innovative and inspirational teachers, and inspiring our children in different ways.

The awards would not have taken place without the generous support of our sponsors and the exceptional generosity of the Emmes Foundation and the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust. In the second year, we had more than 350 nominations, double the first year. It was obvious that the awards were as important to the schools as they were to us, and important for boosting staff morale. This has become a fixture in the community’s calendar and, whereas at the first awards ceremony, the majority of nominations came from London schools, we were delighted that this year half the nominations came from northern schools.

Last year, the PaJeS board decided that for the fifth year the event had to be even bigger and better. We decided to host a dinner and, thanks to the generosity of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, introduced a new competition, the PaJeS Pitch: students would have the opportunity to bid for funding for an original idea for their school, with the finalists pitching their ideas to a panel on the evening. The night exceeded our expectations. As one teacher said: “Thank you so much for an incredible evening that I and the children will never forget. It was truly a highlight of my 18 years in education.”

It isn’t just the finalists who are recognised: each year we send certificates to every person nominated. It is wonderful to think that over the past five years PaJeS and Jewish News have helped to celebrate the achievements of hundreds of teachers.

In so doing we have shown our children perhaps the most important lesson of all – the importance of saying thank you.