St Cecilia’s College, an all-girls’ secondary school in Creggan, was announced as the 2020 winner on BBC’s The One Show on Friday.
The school was told they had won the prestigious national teaching award on a video call with presenter Alex Jones.
“I am so chuffed, I am so proud and I am so humbled,” principal Martine Mulhern said.
Another Northern Ireland school, Hazelwood Integrated College in north Belfast, was also shortlisted for the award and won silver.
In a tweet, Education Minister Peter Weir said: “Well done on a very deserved award St Cecilia’s.”
The Pearson Awards were founded in 1998 to celebrate excellence in UK education.
Mrs Mulhern nominated the school for the Making a Difference: Secondary School of the Year award because she thinks everyone who contributes to the school’s success deserves recognition.
Creggan is one of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland, with over half the pupils in the school eligible for free school meals, which is twice the national average.
Mrs Mulhern said she did not want the past of the area, which was hit hard by the Troubles, to define the school.
“It is very, very important that we continue to march forward into the future and not allow anything or anyone to take us back to a place we don’t want to be.
“We create a pathway through our school that allows every single child – regardless of ability, regardless of socio-economic background – to achieve their absolute potential.”
Despite the challenges, the students excel academically with 97% of pupils getting A-C grades in at least five GCSE grades.
Famous past pupils include Saoirse-Monica Jackson and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, who found fame on Channel 4’s comedy series Derry Girls.
Greta McTague, who is the school’s head of Drama, said she was “thrilled to bits” for the former pupil’s successes.
She said that the two actors being from the school has had a “knock-on effect in the self-belief of the girls”.