Early-years work in spotlight

A headteacher described by inspectors as excellent, inspirational and highly motivational has been awarded a damehood in the New Year Honours List.

Mary MacDonald, head of Riverside primary in North Shields, is one of more than 100 people working in education whose work has been recognised.

The 54-year-old, head of the school for the past decade, said: "I thought it was a wind-up when I got the letter from the Prime Minister." Last year her school came second in value-added league tables, with every pupil achieving level 4 in the three core subjects at key stage 2. She said: "It is such a wonderful feeling to be recognised in this way. I hope my school has disproved the myth that you cannot achieve great things with disadvantaged children."

This year's honours list reflects the importance placed by the Government on early-years education.

Gillian Pugh, chief executive of the children's charity Coram Family and an adviser to the Government on the Children Act, was also made a dame for services to children and families.

Naomi Eisenstadt, director of the Sure Start unit at the Department for Education and Skills, becomes a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and Lesley Abbott, professor of early-years education at Manchester Metropolitan university, receives an OBE.

Ms Pugh said: "It is a huge honour to be recognised for the work of Coram Family but also for any contribution I may have been able to make to the broader agenda. It was very, very unexpected, but I don't think I will be using the title around the house."

David Normington, CB, permanent secretary at the DfES, becomes a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

A knighthood was awarded to Mike Tomlinson, whose report on the reform of education for 14 to 19-year-olds was published last year. Mr Tomlinson, who is also chair of the Learning Trust, which runs education in Hackney, east London, said: "I have just been doing a job and can say with total honesty this was totally unexpected. I suppose it could be in recognition of all the hard work that teachers and pupils in Hackney have put in in the past year, as well as the effort that went into the report."

Entrepreneur Peter Ogden, who founded the Ogden Trust with pound;22.5 million to improve the education of bright children from low-income families, was also knighted. A CBE went to Quentin Blake - the illustrator and former children's laureate, best known for his work on Roald Dahl's books - for services to children's literature.

Overall, 12 mainstream and two special-needs headteachers were honoured, as well as 27 classroom teachers and support staff and nine college staff.

Wendy Baum, who has taught for 27 years at Eleanor Palmer primary school in north London, became an MBE. She said: "I'm feeling like a superstar at the moment. I have only ever wanted to be a class teacher. Children have always been my life."

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