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National honour for inspirational teacher

Posted onPosted on 30th Oct

A Mansfield school principal has won a coveted award for his work with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and learning differences.

Matt Rooney was presented with the SEND Leader of the Year Award at the 2020 nasen Awards.

nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs) is a charity that supports and champions those working with, and for, children and young people. The awards celebrate the innovative work and excellent practice taking place to ensure children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) reach their full potential.

Matt, who leads St Giles School, Retford, was put in the spotlight for his dedication to supporting the needs of children with complex and additional needs, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to creating his school’s Covid-19 operational guidance, a document that has been downloaded over 3,500 times and been recognised by the Department for Education, Matt provides exceptional leadership.

Working across social care, health and education, he ensures children with complex and additional needs receive the best possible care and support. This included providing a vital sense of normality and safety during lockdown.

He worked relentlessly to ensure stability for children and led a group of headteachers and colleagues (including social care managers) across Nottinghamshire to ensure all children’s needs were met.

“What a total surprise and huge honour,” he said.

“I’m so grateful to my colleagues at St Giles Retford for their hard work and dedication to our school and for nominating me for SEND Leader of the Year. I’m lucky to work with so many great people, who are absolutely committed to meeting the needs of such an exceptional group of learners.

“To have been singled out for this award, at a time when so many school leaders have been working so hard to ensure that children and young people with SEND were not forgotten during Covid, is a real honour and is shared with them.

“I am extremely proud but I would like to do something with this accolade, to be a change-maker and a champion to drive for much needed improvements across the sector.”

Matt designed a face covering to support children with SEND to become used to seeing, wearing and feeling them, of which over 1,000 were given out. This was featured in the House of Commons as a focus of a question to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

He also led an area of the specialist curriculum for the Oak National Academy, which saw around 700 lessons and sessions created especially for learners with SEND.

“There is nothing more motivating than empowering and enabling others to be life-givers to children and young people with SEND,” he added.

“When I see such powerful and profound education in practice, it is proof that believing ‘no dreams are out of reach’ is totally the right guiding principle to promote for our school.

“We mustn’t stand still though, or accept that what we are doing, no matter how good, is necessarily enough or right for everyone. We need to continue to work together to redefine the sector so there is better consistency, provision and outcomes for children and adults with SEND.”

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