A TEACHER who has dedicated his career to children with special educational needs has been awarded an OBE.

John O'Neill has spent more than 30 years in special education, working at schools in County Durham and Darlington.

Now working for the Witherslack Group, a leading provider of specialist education, he is the regional director for overseeing integrated learning centres in the North-East and Yorkshire, which aim to provide pupils will a 24-hour curriculum to help them achieve their potential.

Mr O'Neill said: "I am completely shocked and humbled to have received this honour.

"It’s been a privilege to work with so many great colleagues and pupils during my career, and this award would not have been possible without them.

"I would also like to thank my wife Linda, and children Thomas and David, for their unwavering support and encouragement throughout my career."

Mr O'Neill has previously been executive head teacher at the Oakwood Learning Centre in Heighington, near Darlington, and The Grange, in Low Willington, which are both run by the Witherslack Group and teach small groups of children with special educational needs.

Originally from Consett, he went to St Bede's School in Lanchester before going to do 3D Design at West Surrey College of Art & Design, followed by a teaching qualification at Brighton Polytechnic and Masters in Education at Newcastle University.

He began teaching in 1983 at a community college in East Sussex and later moved back to County Durham, where he worked at a residential school for fourteen years before joining a special needs school in Darlington.

He has worked for the Witherslack Group for the last five years.

His OBE is in recognition of services to children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Dame Dela Smith, a retired Darlington teacher who worked with Mr O'Neill for many years, said: “John is one in a million in his field, a unique individual who can engage, lead and inspire children whom others have failed to help.

"He seeks the strategies and levers to help every child succeed, firmly believing that no child is unteachable. This raises him above the rest and I have never met an individual in this field who can match him.”