IT’S fair to say that workers within the education system faced challenges like never before when the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe.

From the very first national lockdown in March 2020 through to tiered restriction systems, home learning and whole school years being sent home depending on Covid test results, to say it’s been a challenging 18-months for schools and colleges is certainly an understatement.

So it's a particular pleasure to celebrate the heroes of our educational institutions across the region in The Northern Echo Education Awards 2021.

Huge thanks to BBC presenter Wendy Gibson who hosted the awards so superbly on Thursday night and apologies for the sound issues experienced towards the end of the cermony.

The whole awards ceremony - with full sound throughout - can be viewed here.

Enjoy reading the inspirational stories of each of our very worthy winners.

Primary School Teacher of the Year - Euan Legg, Whinfield Primary School

The Northern Echo:

EUAN Legg, a teacher at Whinfield Primary School in Darlington has won high praise for the impact he has made on his pupils.

A parent who nominated him for the award said: "My daughter (Ellie) went to Whinfield and in Year 5 got a new young teacher called Mr Euan Legg.

"What a guy, what a teacher and what a gentleman.

"He speaks to the children about real life, talks to them like human beings and, most of all, he knows every single one of the kids in his class.

"It was the first parent evening I’d been to (apart from reception) where someone spoke about Ellie as Ellie.

"He knew her real personality and was 100 per cent spot on.

"Talking to Ellie’s friends’ mums, they have said the same, and agree it is refreshing to have a teacher who knows and understands his kids.

"All the kids had so much respect for him – and still do.

"They left in Covid year and on their last day not one teacher from Year 6 came to the gates to say goodbye and wish them the best.

"However, Mr Legg saved the day. Thank you for making our kids’ day by having socially distanced photos, jumping in air photos and photos with your fan club – the grateful mums.

"This guy is passionate about making a difference – and he does.

"He needs bottling and spreading around every school in England.

"Never change Mr Legg – you’re an amazing teacher."

Upon receiving his award, Mr Legg said he was 'grateful' just have been nominated and never thought he'd win.

He added: "Looking after the children was my priority and just making sure that they felt happy and safe."


School Governor of the Year - Maura Regan, Carmel Education Trust

The Northern Echo:

MAURA Regan is the architect of Carmel Education Trust, having led the successful transformation of Carmel College from a single outstanding college to the lead school in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) which is recognised as a leading organisation nationally.

Ms Regan and her leadership team have supported schools across the region – all of which are now showing significant improvements in outcomes for students.

She is passionate about making a difference and believes that every child should be given every opportunity to succeed.

Ms Regan has been pro-active in supporting North Eastern Teaching Schools Partnership in the delivery of various programmes.

Amongst a long list of accolades, she received an OBE in 2015, is a Deputy Lieutenant for County Durham and was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2021 in recognition of her outstanding leadership and service to education in the region and nationally.

Ms Regan has worked in education for more than 40-years and as a governor for around two decades.

She described school governors and school volunteers as 'the unsung heroes' of the education system and said it was a 'total surprise' to win the award.

She said she was 'extraordinarily humbled and grateful' to be nominated and praised her fellow nominees for all their hard work and achievements.

Ms Regan added: "There is an army of volunteers out there who are the unsung heroes in education and they deserve to be recognised in any way."


Secondary School Teacher of the Year - Stephen Boyd, Richmond School

The Northern Echo:

RICHMOND School and Sixth Form lead music teacher Stephen Boyd was undeterred by the challenges of Covid and within days of the March 2020 lockdown, all his instrumental music lessons were seamlessly delivered online, with barely any disruption to students’ learning.

Within three months the department celebrated its 1,000th live online lesson.

Mr Boyd also encouraged students to investigate performance opportunities, setting an example by joining the Music Teachers’ Virtual Orchestra.

This inspired students to join groups such as the Dales Community Choir, the 8 Bit Big Band and the Virtual Video Games Orchestra.

In the autumn term, with musical performances still not permitted, Mr Boyd came up with a creative and inspiring way for students to show off their talents – a musical advent calendar.

For 24 days a musical treat was shared on the school’s social media and website, with a staff performance for Christmas Eve.

Mr Boyd arranged for all 24 performances to be combined as a grand Christmas concert which was shared with care homes and the wider community. A number of the recordings were also aired on BBC Radio Tees and BFBS Radio.

He said he was 'very shocked' to be announced as the Education Awards winner and was full of praise for the whole school team of staff, particularly his colleagues Mark and Alice, and the students themselves.

He said: "I am very, very fortunate to work with a superb team at Richmond School, both at the senior level and in performing arts so really this award is for all of them."


Star Student of the Year, Under 16 - Jess Fairley, Hummersknott Academy

The Northern Echo:

JESS Fairley is the outgoing editor of Hummersknott Academy's newspaper, The Hummersknott Academical.

She has used the paper to highlight important issues such as mental wellbeing and the person who nominated her for the Star Student Award explained: “I began working with Jess, her classmates, and English teacher Dominic Webber in 2018 to help them create, develop and produce their first school newspaper.

“Jess put herself forward to be the paper’s first editor and did an excellent job in that role.

“She took charge of the paper, managing her team effectively to produce five issues of the Academical (soon to be six).

“Under her leadership the paper became a success, sharing school news with students, parents, faculty members and others.

“Jess also drove it to become a campaigning paper, raising student awareness of topics such as climate change, LGBT issues and disability, and using its power to raise money for charity, donating the proceeds from advertisement sales to local and national charities.

“While the paper was very much a team effort, it was wonderful to see Jess quickly grow as that team’s leader.

“She deserves to be commended for her efforts.”

Jess said she was 'very proud' of how far the newspaper has come since its inception.

Of her awards win, she said: "It feels amazing, honestly, for all the hard work of the team and everybody at the school, for it to have paid off and to see that all that work has led to an award-winning paper.

"The whole point of writing about such issues was for people to read it and now hopefully even more people will."


Newcomer of the Year - Phoebe Ackers, Bedale School

The Northern Echo:

PHOEBE Ackers joined Bedale School in September 2020 as a newly-qualified art and textiles teacher and since then has significantly raised student engagement and achievement.

During lockdown Phoebe worked hard to inspire and creatively engage students through a range of art-based opportunities including the creation of puppets to celebrate World Book Day, portraits of inspirational women through history linked to International Women’s Day and dynamic artwork to promote the school production of Blood Brothers.

She has caught students’ attention with topics including Chinese New Year, Naughty but Nice and the Day of the Dead, when students drew and made skulls.

She also encouraged them to take part in competitions to design a new logo for Friends of the Friarage and a new stamp for Royal Mail.

Her nominator said: “Community-based opportunities such as these are important to us and help every child to engage with worthwhile causes and events outside the school gates whilst providing a real sense of inclusion and the possibility to achieve.

“Phoebe gives her all in school and as such has made a significant and lasting impact on our students – not just as an artist but also as a sympathetic, passionate and dedicated teacher.”

Phoebe herself praised her 'brilliant students' and said: "I can't believe that I have won really, it was a shock to be nominated in the first place and it just means so much to me." She acknowledged that starting out a teaching career during a global pandemic brought its challenges but said 'everyone just got on with it.'


Star Student, over 16 - Rebecca Thornley, Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College

The Northern Echo:

REBECCA Thornley a Darlington Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College graduate is a survivor of domestic abuse – not a victim – who has not allowed this situation to define her life.

Instead, she used it as a springboard to help and support others who have experienced or are experiencing similar situations.

As a media spokesperson for Women’s Aid, Rebecca uses her voice to let people know that children and young people can get over the other side and are survivors not victims. She also works to create change on how survivors of domestic abuse are perceived through the media.

Rebecca has collaborated with the National Citizenship Service (NCS) to create a presentation on leadership which will be given to graduates of the NCS programme in England and Northern Ireland.

She has used her position on the its North East Regional Youth board to tackle the negative perception of mental health and promote positive mental wellbeing for all via social media platforms.

Rebecca is also a Brownies Young Leader for the Girl Guides and plays an active role in the college’s Interact club and Student Association.

Originally from Durham, she is now living in Newcastle studying law at Northumbria University.

She said she was 'shocked' to win the award and said she continues to speak up for abuse survivors.

She said: "I get my strength from my mum, from how much she stayed strong for me and my little sister.

"I feel like now it is my turn to be strong because there are others in that (abuse) situation and I want them to know you can get through it."


Headteacher of the Year - Robert Goffee, Green Lane School, Barnard Castle

The Northern Echo:

ROBERT Goffee headteacher of Green Lane School in Barnard Castle won high praise from parents and colleagues for the way he kept pupils engaged and entertained during the Covid lockdowns.

In nominating him for the award, they said: “We think Mr Goffee would be a worthy winner of this award for more reasons than we have room to say.

“Throughout this difficult year he has motivated everyone at Green Lane to keep going, providing live weekly school assemblies which have been watched on Facebook by the whole community, not just pupils and their families.

“He has raced the corridors to show us the classrooms, danced to our school anthem, The Lighthouse Song, made us smile and praised our children so warmly that all of them watching at home were desperate to get back to school.

“His enthusiasm, energy and humour helped us feel as though we’re still in the Team GL family, not on our own, and that things were going to be okay.

“We have had regular emails and extra Facebook messages, Mr Goffee welcomes the children each day as they return to school and has led his amazing team through the most trying of times, alongside the mountain of work required from a head teacher.

“My eight-year-old son will tell you ‘he’s the best, he’s brilliant, funny, caring and kind.’ “I’d absolutely agree. “ Mr Goffee said it felt 'absolutely incredible' to win, adding: "It is a brilliant honour.

"During these last 18-months the school has just felt like it is at the centre of the community and caring for each other, keeping each other safe and happy has just been the number one priority."


Support Staff of the Year - Mel Twigg, Mowbray School Special Needs School

The Northern Echo:

MEL Twigg, of Mowbray School Special Needs School, was described as ‘an amazing teaching assistant’ who not only stepped up to fill the gap of teacher in the class, but has also taken on the planning and actioning of all the work.

She has the most amazing relationship with the students in the class, calming students’ behaviour and engaging all the students in topics by relating their likes and interests to the topic.

She is hugely loved and respected by her class and her nominators described her as ‘a priceless jewel in our setting which specialises in ASD and SEMH needs’.

They added: “Mel approaches everything with enthusiasm which clearly filters through to the students.

“They love her and can all clearly see she enjoys working with them.

“It is such a fantastic class because she is leading them, and the students have grown in confidence and abilities.

“Mel is absolutely incredible and needs recognition for her hard work and the way in which she approaches everything she does.”

At the awards ceremony, Ms Twigg was described as being an 'absolutely incredible' assistant who has the 'most amazing relationship with students in the class.'

BBC presenter Wendy Gibson, who hosted the awards on the night, praised all the hard work done by education support staff.

She said they make many sacrifices to ensure the well-being of pupils, adding: "You can see why this is such an important category, what a difference you all make."

"Very well done Mel, we look forward to following your progress in the future, it is fantastic stuff."


School of the Year - Richmond School and Sixth Form College

The Northern Echo:

IN and out of lockdown, Richmond School and Sixth Form College has excelled in ways it would never have thought possible, with students and staff showing huge inner strength and teamwork to achieve great things.

They have developed an alumni network, resulting in hundreds of former students inspiring and mentoring students. Whilst work experience weeks couldn’t go ahead, the careers team found creative ways to ensure students didn’t miss out.

They also worked closely with local employers to ensure more than ever have secured apprenticeships.

Students and staff have also supported the community, raising over £10,000 for the Great North Air Ambulance, creating virtual concerts and supporting various charities.

The school also pulled together when tragedy struck with the sudden death of much-loved deputy head Dave Clark in September 2020.

Accepting the award, headteacher Jenna Potter dedicated it to Mr Clark, saying: "He was such a special man, not just in our school but in the whole community.

"He had influenced for the better the lives of thousands and thousands of people in our local town and it really did devastate us when we lost Dave in a tragic accident last September. And we still miss him now."

Ms Potter said that she was proud to receive the award and felt that the school offered students everything it could for bright futures.

She said: "Students are all individually valued for who they are and what they are and despite the difficult times, we offered them exciting opportunities to help them decide what it is they want to do."


Community Involvement - Bedale High School

The Northern Echo:

AS a community school, Bedale High School places a strong focus on promoting, celebrating and strengthening links not just with their own school community but with the communities in the surrounding area.

This year, alongside their Rotary Shoebox project which filled and sent off over 250 boxes to disadvantage young people in Eastern Europe pupils have collected food for the Hambleton Food share, raised money for the Children’s Cancer Fund and created handmade gifts for three local care homes.

As part of the school’s Wellbeing Passport initiative, students have also been encouraged to demonstrate kindness, commitment and compassion to others.

This term they have started the Big Garden Build to create a safe, calm and inclusive space for students, involving the local community with this collaborative project from the start.

A school spokesman said: “As a school, community is everything to us and as our links with the local community continue to develop and grow so do the opportunities for our students to become caring, selfless and proactive individuals.”

Accepting the award on behalf of the school, headteacher Tom Kelly said: "I'm really proud because it gives us something we can take back and share as a little thank you to our amazing teachers and families who have shown a lot of support to us."

He said that community involvement has always been a high priority for the school and that it was especially important during Covid lockdowns that it did not lose its connection to parents, carers and families.

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