We sit down with 2020 Excellence in Special Needs Education Winner, David Swanston to find out how life in Special Education has been since his win last year.

How did you find out you’d won your award?

It was a real shock to win the award – but a very proud moment – not just for me personally, but for school, staff and students. There was clearly a lot going on behind the scenes to announce the Gold award on the day from our staff and the BBC – prior to this I was self-isolating – so this was my first day back in school! The focus (as I understood it) was to be on our enriched and project-based curriculum which we run every Wednesday afternoon. As the day unfolded – this clearly wasn’t the case. I then found out through some sneaky undercover work in our community café’ and a wonderful surprise from Dan Walker of Football Focus.

What has the effect been of winning?

Since winning the award I’ve been inundated with calls and emails from friends and colleagues – but the profile of St Vincent’s School has certainly been raised. As a non-maintained school – and one of only a handful left in the country, very few are aware of our provision and what we offer – this has certainly changed over the last few months.

How has the last year been for your school?

The last year – as with many schools has been challenging, but at the same time rewarding. Finding that balance between schools being open, appropriate remote provision and ensuring we are meeting the needs of all our students’ as fully as possible has been a continuous reflective exercise. It has amazed me how resilient our young people (and staff) here at St Vincent’s are!

What are the main challenges facing special needs education at the moment?

I wouldn’t want to comment broadly – but certainly some points will resonate with SEND as a whole. Some of the challenges I am finding particularly as a non-maintained provision is that parents are simply unaware of schools like St Vincent’s – and many who are aware need support and guidance throughout the whole process in order to gain access to this provision for their child.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is working with our students – and the outcomes they all achieve.

What is your ethos/ top tips for providing excellent special needs education?

One of my top tips would be to collaborate – St Vincent’s is an Education and Enterprise Village – in short, we engage with a myriad of professionals and partners to offer the best possible opportunities for our students. I would encourage people to have a look at our projects section on the school website: www.stvin.com

How has special needs education developed over recent years?

I’m still relatively new to the world of SEND – there are many colleagues who will have been through significant changes – EHC Plans to note – but as one of the youngest Deputy Principles in the country of a NMISS I have seen, as mentioned above, a real will for collaboration and focus to raise the profile of SEND and focus on the many skills and strengths our children and young people have to offer – for me personally – despite the difficult year – I am excited for the future.

How did you get into teaching?

I’ve always wanted to teach – from my first high school experience if Physical Education it was always what I was going to pursue. Growing up playing ice hockey and coaching junior hockey, it was a natural progression. I completed a Sports Development course after secondary school and completed my degree in Physical Education, Sport and Dance at Liverpool John Moores University.

Did you have a great teacher growing up?

Absolutely… I would always be found in the gym or DT & history department – Smith, Marshall & Wotherspoon are all teachers who inspired my into the profession.