Uplands School and the Uplands Educational Trust (UET) won two prestigious TES awards at an Oscar’s style gala evening hosted by BAFTA-nominated writer and comedian Greg Davies on Friday 19 June.
Not only did the judges vote Uplands and UET top in the Alternative Provision School of the Year category, they also gave them the highest marks of all the schools present at Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Mayfair by choosing them as the Overall School of the Year.
The announcement was greeted with rapture by the Uplands team of senior managers, teachers, teaching assistants and governors, and the chance by a couple of TAs to give Greg Davies a huge hug.
Uplands executive headteacher Jackie Smith said everybody on the Uplands table were stunned by the announcement of best overall school. “I was being interviewed after we received Alternative Provision School of the Year trophy whilst the last awards were being given out, and the TES organisers kept hinting that I should be there with the others for the last award; I really didn’t think we could win the best overall category.
“Then it was announced that we were the winners and we all screamed with delight; there were so many primary and secondary schools who were doing amazing things, it was incredible that the judges had selected us. You see all the stars at the Oscar ceremony stunned that their name had been called out, it was just like that, we couldn’t believe Uplands had been chosen. It was pure joy to be named.”
Uplands headteacher Deirdre Fitzpatrick said she had to encourage everybody in the team to take to the stage for the second time to receive the ultimate accolade, as well as nodding to the TAs that they had licence to get there first to hug the compere. “We’re still coming down from the experience but looking at things objectively, I think the judges were impressed by our work to build provisions that allow our students and families to learn effectively, not just up to 19 but up to age 25, to really broaden their experiences. We’ve gone above and beyond a normal school, Uplands is not just about a place of education it’s about all the other things that we do to make the school totally inclusive.
“The children are absolutely lovely, but let’s make no bones about it, the families have to give up an awful lot to support their children, some of whom have very complex needs. We are an outstanding school in terms of progression, in terms of teaching and learning, in terms of staff expertise.”
Jackie said: “We agree with the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw who says school leadership is the most important factor in a school’s success. But we see leadership as something that runs throughout the school, at all levels, it’s not just senior managers or teachers. We expect our TAs and our admin staff to all be leaders and we train them that way. They all have responsibility for the progress and the wellbeing of our students, we are very clear on that. Everybody takes responsibility, everybody takes initiatives to improve the education of the students.
“It’s also about helping young people with disability to help themselves, and I think that comes across in everything we do: it’s about enabling, not disabling.
“Disability or disadvantage is not an excuse for us. We are a school and we’re quite clear on that. Our aim is change perceptions that a special school is all about care – we say it’s all about care and progression at the same time. And we do these things remarkably well.
“It’s good that a special school should win overall school of the year because the judges have recognised that we are both supporting the most vulnerable in society very, very well, but we’re also taking education very seriously. Our objective is about going that extra mile, about doing that extra thing, it’s about nothing being too much. We have zero per cent exclusion rates – there are probably only few other schools in the country who can claim that – but we’re certainly the only secondary school in Swindon and we absolutely hold fast with that. And that’s not because it’s some mantle we stick out there, it’s because exclusion doesn’t work; it doesn’t help families and it doesn’t help the young person.”
Deirdre is delighted that Swindon’s reputation has been lifted to the top by winning the TES award. “Swindon does get a lot of bad press and the education sector gets a lot of bad press. But actually the good work is not well enough recognised because the focus is quite narrow on the achievements in attaining 5 A-Cs in Maths, English, Science and so on. But the Swindon schools in their entirety should be recognised for a lot more than that. Sometimes the bad press is undeserved.”
Over 1,000 attendees from nominated primary, secondary and special schools across the nation attended the TES Schools Awards, now in their seventh year, to recognise outstanding contributions made by education teams and individuals in 16 categories, ranging from headteacher of the year, teachers or teams of the year in maths, English, science, technology and engineering teams, arts and humanities and community to the healthy school of the year, an award for international commitment, the most creative school of the year and teacher blogger of the year.
Uplands, located at the North Swindon Learning Campus in Redhouse, caters for students aged 11 to 19 years old with severe (SLD) or profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), and/or Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC). Attainment on entry for all our students is well below the national age related expectation and all students have statements of SEN.
UET was launched in 2013 as a learning centre for young people aged 19 to 25 and is designed to enable young adults to continue their education after leaving school and gain important life skills for life living in the community and to take up employment opportunities. Currently, the UET runs two shops where young people learn to serve customers in a commercial situation and also Maryfield, which provides the chance for young people with disabilities to live independently in a supported housing facility run in conjunction with Sanctuary Housing Association.
This is underpinned by impressive academic achievement: 77 per cent of students make outstanding upper-quartile progress across key stages 3-5 in literacy, and 74 per cent in numeracy.
The judging panel was particularly impressed by the school’s continuing professional development (CPD) programme, which has been rolled out throughout the country. Last year Uplands worked with over 15 schools and colleges, delivered presentations at 10 conferences and mentored a number of new head teachers.
The winners were chosen by a panel of judges including the writer Anthony Horowitz, Dr Lee Elliot Major, Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust, and Colin Bell, Chief Executive of the Council of British International Schools.
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland sent his congratulations to Uplands saying: ”I am delighted to see that Uplands has received much-deserved national recognition for their excellent work. The leadership team and staff at Uplands are all dedicated to improving opportunities for children and young people in their care.
“I am a keen supporter of the Uplands Educational Trust, which is providing post 19 courses to local young people with additional needs and learning difficulties. As a local MP and parent, I am very proud of the achievements of Uplands and of our other excellent special schools here in Swindon.”
Pictured top and bottom by Richard Wintle of Calyx, Jackie Smith and Deidre Fitzpatrick showing off the TES Awards with Uplands students. Below, raising the award for best overall school at the TES Awards event in London