Two teachers from a school in Devon have been announced as winners at the National Teaching Awards in an emotional moment after the pandemic.
Jo Fison and Matt Jenkins both teach at the Deaf Academy in Exmouth and were nominated for the Lockdown Hero category by a member of staff.
Speaking to the One Show, on BBC One, Mark Stocks, assistant headteacher of the Deaf Academy, said: “The main reason for nominating Matt and Jo is they made the world accessible to these young people.”
Most pupils who attend the academy are deaf or hard of hearing with additional complex needs, so when lockdown shrouded the country, being stuck at home left these students feeling immensely isolated.
Mr Stocks emphasised how challenging a time the pandemic was for their students when they were unable to learn in a school environment.
“The difficulty for the students was they needed access to their community,” he said. “All of our students benefit from sign language and accessing signing every day.”
Ms Fison is herself hard of hearing while Mr Jenkins is deaf and a British Sign Language user, so when the lockdown hit England, they knew how difficult it might be for their pupils.
Mr Jenkins launched a YouTube channel ‘Ask Deaf Teachers’ to help offer video explanations describing what was going on throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
He explained how the online resources tried to recreate the fun elements of learning and give a feeling that felt like a safe environment.
The YouTube channel took off nationally and the lessons became a lifeline for so many people in the deaf community across the UK.
Ms Fison led the design of an online academy and together they developed content and resources that all students could access, whatever their ability.
Speaking on lockdown, Ms Fison said: “Everybody was feeling a little disconnected and isolated.
“So to be able to come together was amazing. The feeling of community and fun and we had so much laughter.”
They also ran lessons off-screen, encouraging arts and crafts sessions and arranged for kits to be delivered to pupils’ doors.
Both teachers were surprised with the news of their win in the assembly hall of the school under the pretence that the cameras were present to film their nomination.
Gabriella Leon, the former Casualty star who has been deaf since birth, came to The Deaf Academy to announce their win.
When asked to help surprise the teachers on their award, she said yes straight away having heard about their incredible work throughout lockdown.
The star phoned the school via a video link to congratulate Ms Fison and Mr Jenkins remotely when she was in fact in the next room.
Both teachers were greeted outside the school with the announcement of their win, with some of Jo and Matt’s students present to present the awards.
One Show host, Rylan Clarke-Neal praised all teachers for going above and beyond over lockdown – but highlighted Matt and Jo’s impressive and quick efforts setting up an accessible online academy.
The One Show’s Alex Jones, who was a judge of the Lockdown Hero Award, appeared on the show to offer a message of appreciation for both teachers.
Jones said: “I’d just like to say a huge congratulations. What you did for your pupils in order to make them feel supported and what you did for the wider deaf community is just so inspiring.”
Speaking on representation within the deaf community, Mr Jenkins told the One Show: “All the students here are the next generation.
“We need more deaf role models to pass this on to future generations and not stop.”