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And the winner is…

It has been said that awards are merely the badges of mediocrity. However, with the school having recently been shortlisted for a Guardian Public Service Award, this view has now been discredited.

I believe the thinking is that awards are judged by committees, often using criteria based on the accepted ways of doing things. Therefore a rather brilliant entry may not be valued simply because it may not understood by those doing the judging. Perhaps our recent inspection might be a case in point. However, with the nation’s public services under threat, the theme of The Guardian awards was innovation in the face of adversity, recognising public services that have challenged the norms and developed services that provide great impact with limited resources.

Adversity has been a familiar story for us at Highgate Primary where over the years we have been underfunded and under resourced. Losing revenue, for example ‘SureStart’ funding, we’ve had to adapt the ways in which we do things in order to deliver services of which we are proud.

So, with great excitement, we set off on Tuesday evening to the awards ceremony at One Marylebone, wondering if tonight would be the night when our work at school was recognised at a the national level. No expense was spared as our pastoral team were greeted with Champagne, cocktails and canapés good enough to rival our chef Mustafa’s tasting plates at parents evening. All the nominees, sponsors and journalists were looking fabulous in their finery – win or not, it was clear that this was going to be a special evening.

The master of ceremonies for the evening was actor Sally Phillips, who shared that this was her favourite awards event, ‘as the winners actually deserve them’. With representation from education, social care, the health service, police, housing and the charity sector, you could understand the sentiment.

The school’s nomination was based on our model for delivering pastoral services. Early on in my headship, it was clear that the greatest barrier to the school achieving the highest standards of attainment was the level of emotional need faced by some of our pupils. Pupils’ challenging behaviour was not only impacting on their academic progress, but in some cases impacting on that of the class – and definitely impacting on me. I regularly found myself unable to get on with my day as I had to supervise children who had been disruptive in class. There were clearly children and families who could benefit from regular, high-quality therapeutic intervention, but accessing this support through established channels was proving extremely difficult. Something needed to change.

The school’s model for therapeutic support started when our Pastoral Support Officer, Katy Whitney, started working with us as a volunteer counsellor. She provided weekly one-to-one therapeutic sessions, with two or three children, as she clocked up the clinical hours she needed to be able to practice professionally. We evaluated the impact her work was having on her children, and knew that our in-house therapeutic service needed to expand. Roll forward eight years and Katy is the school’s Pastoral Support Officer, coordinating a team of 12 newly qualified psychotherapists and counsellors – and overseeing the work of Max the reading dog. Behaviour in classrooms is always conducive to effective learning and, these days, children tend to get sent to my office for positive reasons.

And this is just a part of the school’s commitment to health and wellbeing. We give children the best start in life through our Family Centre and its partnership with the midwifery team, health visitors and breastfeeding support; we keep our children fit with high quality sport and innovations such as ‘Run a mile’, we feed our children well with meals cooked every day from fresh ingredients and we nurture our children with love, care and happiness. After all, if we can’t get wellbeing right, attainment and progress is largely irrelevant.

So when we heard the words, ‘and the winner is… Highgate Primary School’ we were all delighted and, for the second week running, rather emotional.

William