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The winners showed an ability to be bold, to embrace technology, to reach beyond the school gates and to engage with the local community.

This year’s Pearson National Teaching Awards UK were announced on Sunday, 28 November.

There were fifteen categories – including a special category for 2021: The Lockdown Hero Award for Learner and Community Support. Pupils, parents, teachers and schools across the UK were invited to nominate teachers and support staff who had gone above and beyond to support pupils and the wider community in lockdown.

All the winners have been recognised for both their individual and team qualities, but they also share some key attributes: good communication skills, innovation, enthusiasm, perseverance and an understanding of the community they serve.

A photograph from the 2020 Teaching Awards, showing a lady giving a speech on stage, and people sitting at tables watching.
The delayed 2020 Teaching Awards took place in September 2021

Embracing technology

A common theme throughout many entries this year was technology and how best to use it – especially in an era of lockdowns and homeschooling. Several of the winners spent painstaking hours ensuring the most disadvantaged pupils had access to tech, and talking on the telephone with parents to ensure they knew how to log on and use the relevant platforms and resources.

It was no different for teachers too – several of the winners made sure their colleagues both understood how to use the relevant technology, but also that they saw its worth and believed it would help their pupils in those challenging times.

Hannah Lewis, who teaches Year 4 at a primary school in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, won the Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year. She was praised for taking that technological help one step further by inviting parents and the local community into school for support sessions, including cyber security, CV-writing workshops, and digital skills training.

Jacqueline Birch is a Year 2 teacher and assistant principal in Wigan and won the Award for Teacher of the Year in a Primary School. She was commended for her innovation in producing a digital Christmas video instead of a nativity play.

Knowing what tech the kids use

The use of technology doesn’t stop at video conferencing platforms. Matt Jenkins, who is lead British Sign Language (BSL) teacher at the Deaf Academy in Exmouth, jointly won the Lockdown Hero Award for Learner and Community Support with his colleague Jo Fison, lead of E-learning. Matt was praised for his creative use of social media when he set up the ‘Ask Deaf Teachers’ video sharing channel with fun and accessible resources in sign language, to make sure the Deaf learners in his school had equal access to information and learning around Covid.

Matt says: “The most challenging thing for me was creating the videos, because I too was struggling to access the information in my native language of BSL. I had to research and process and break down the information suitable for Deaf children who use BSL. I also had to quickly learn how to edit and be as creative as possible. But I did it all for the Deaf children… All the challenges I overcame were for them.”

Jo Fison made sure that online platforms were able to stream sign language efficiently and clearly and also kept wellbeing at the heart of all delivery. She too went that extra mile to cajole staff and help them believe that teaching remotely was possible.

Jo says: “If you have passion as a teacher, you can do most things and work through all the immense challenges this profession has faced over the last few years.” She also believes resilience, humour and flexibility go a long way: “Keeping a sense of humour, keeping those ‘positive pants’ on every day, makes a huge difference to the students, staff team and parents.”

New Pontefract College, whose PE Team won the Award for FE Team of the Year, was recognised for having its own YouTube channel and podcast, which students could take part in. The staff – as with many teachers recognised this year – were not afraid to embrace technology and use it to help pupils and parents alike.

Engaging with parents and the community

Another thing that came across from the winning entries was the importance of engaging with parents, and with the wider community that a school operates within. Teachers showed courage by reaching out to the wider neighbourhood and talking to local businesses and community groups.

Reema Reid, who first started as a lunchtime assistant at Hollydale Primary School in Southwark, won the Award for Headteacher of the Year in a Primary School. She got credit for building community links with local businesses and employers. She was also recognised as a champion for ethnic minority teachers taking up leadership roles in their schools.

Reema says leadership is not just about being in charge, but also about “taking care of those you’re in charge of – children, parents, staff and myself”. She adds that you have “got to put your head above the parapet” in order to establish links locally.

Reema made sure her school connected with the corporate social responsibility departments of big companies. She says it’s about: “Being very visible, loud and out there – saying ‘this is us’, and then also showing the outcomes from the support you are given.”

Queen Katharine Academy in Peterborough won the Award for Impact through Partnership for working tirelessly to understand and support their Gypsy-Roma community. This included employing Roma staff, visiting a Roma community in Slovakia and working closely with Roma educational organisations to share best practice for supporting those students and their families.

Marie Lindsay, former principal at a secondary school in Derry, Northern Ireland, won the Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was praised for embracing the Shared Education Programme, aimed at overcoming religious and cultural divisions in Northern Ireland. She was also applauded for being innovative in the ways she engaged pupils, parents, business and educational communities, and in the way she empowered staff to always want to improve the school and beyond.

Be bold

The winners showed an ability to be bold, to embrace technology, to reach beyond the school gates and to engage with the local community. They also thought beyond the school educational journey, with many of the winners being applauded for helping pupils to shape their future careers.

A full list of winners is on the Teaching Awards website.

If you’ve been inspired by this year’s awards, entries for 2022 are now open.