Teachers “working at full tilt” through “one of the most challenging” periods ever have earned Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s praise.

He said the nation is indebted to everyone working in schools for what they have done during the pandemic. That included adapting the curriculum, switching to lessons online and safeguarding pupils. Thousands worked throughout the Easter and summer holidays without a break to ensure students did not fall behind.

He said: “They worked at full tilt throughout the pandemic as schools were kept open for the most vulnerable children and those of key workers. It meant repurposing lesson materials online. It meant putting strict hygiene and safety measures in place to keep children and staff safe. And it meant supporting their pupils through one of the most challenging periods the country has ever faced. We owe everyone working in schools an enormous debt of thanks for what they have done this year and I am especially grateful to our heads and senior leaders.”

Staff put their lives at risk to continue teaching when schools stayed open for vulnerable children and those of key workers throughout the first lockdown earlier this year. Universities and schools have also been open throughout the current second lockdown.

Sue Blair, head teacher at Pennine Way Primary School in Carlisle, Cumbria, praised all teachers across the UK for their Herculean efforts this year. She said: “Teachers have put their own needs and their own families’ needs to the back of the queue. People have their own families that they’re worried about because they’re coming to school everyday and they might take [the virus] home, and whilst we’ve got systems and procedures in place, there’s never any guarantees.”

Public Health England said last week that the second most common location to catch Covid-19 was secondary schools, followed by primary schools. The data, collated using the NHS Test and Trace phone app, found supermarkets were the single most likely source. At least 46 teaching and educational professionals died from Covid-19 between March and May, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed. More teachers have died or been struck down since but no official figures have been released to confirm how many.

Some of the nation’s inspirational teachers and school staff will be honoured in a weeklong celebration on BBC-TV’s The One Show from tonight. On it Pearson National Teaching gold award winners, who have “repeatedly gone above and beyond their role”, will receive recognition throughout this week. Mr Williamson said: “I admit that it seems hardly fair to single out a very few teachers when frankly each and every single one of our school leaders, teachers and support staff deserves an award this year for all they have done to keep children safe and learning.”

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, added: “More than ever before we have gained a real understanding of the incredible work school and college staff do every day.”

You don’t have to accept his reasoning to believe that it would perhaps take a teacher to discover it. The Covid outbreak has made huge additional demands of everyone, but our teachers have still continued to unlock potential and bring children on a wonderful journey of discovery through learning. Thanks to their efforts, more than 99 per cent of schools have been open every week since term began and millions of pupils are continuing to benefit from learning in person and spending time with their friends. While I know that every teacher has willingly gone the extra mile to do all this, I am also aware of how much pressure undoubtedly falls on school leaders. They have worked tirelessly to make sure their school communities are the same welcoming, positive places they always have been. Their phenomenal efforts and dedication have kept our vital education settings strong. This is why I am so pleased to support the Pearson National Teaching Awards this week. They recognise those teachers who have gone above and beyond to inspire and encourage their pupils to achieve their best.

I would like to congratulate all the winners to say that you are the most enormous credit to your profession, but I would also like to say thank you to every single person who has supported children and young people this year. In my book, each one of you is a winner.

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