A Blackpool special needs school has been crowned School of the Year in a prestigious, national awards ceremony.
Highfurlong School in Blackpool scooped the top spot in the government-backed National Schools Awards prize which took place on Wednesday (December 8) at the House of Lords.
Staff and pupils at the school, which has also been judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted on four occasions, are delighted with the accolade.
Headteacher Neill Oldham said the achievement had ‘not sunk in’ and said pupils, families and staff were thrilled with it.
The school, which currently has 112 pupils on roll, stayed open throughout the lockdowns, he said, paying tribute to the dedication and hard work of staff.
He said: “It’s a fantastic achievement. The fact that we have had such national attention for our work and that we have won this is amazing. Not only is it a lift for us as a school, but also for the families and for the parents of these children who have complex needs, who have struggled through the last 18 months.
“And for the North West winning something like this is massive – it’s incredible for the area.”
He said staff had worked continuously throughout the last 18 months, with the school being a demonstrator for the Department of Education on special needs, and being based on an inclusive family ethos.
He added: “We do so much work nationally, it’s all built around an inclusive family ethos.
“We have gone from 51 children on roll in 2018 to 112, and now the demand for what we offer children and families is enormous. We get three or four more requests every week for our provision. There are parents who have moved to Blackpool to try and get their children into this school from all over the country.
“To get this kind of national award is really the icing on the cake.”
Highlighting how the school had risen to the challenges of the pandemic, he said the school had stayed open throughout the lockdowns, with the school taking on additional duties such as community visits, becoming a hub for a food bank and providing an equipment bank and training to support families with remote learning.
He added: “We have had to manage all the additional rigour and routines to keep everyone safe as well as carrying on teaching them and making everyday count for them. It has been a pressure point, and the staff have been in every day.
“It’s just been a demand on everybody’s time that’s unprecedented – but everybody just gets on with it and comes through it, and knows that they’re doing it for the children and their families.
“It’s really hard to describe, but it’s amazing.”
Adding how staff from the school had received their award at the same time as Wednesday’s national briefing, he said: “We were in one room in the House of Lords and Boris was in another room in the same building. It was all happening whilst we were in the awards ceremony, so it’s a nice story at the other side of that.”
He added: “We will need to grow in the near future to meet demand, because there are more and more children with complex needs coming into the system, who want and deserve what we offer.”
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