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Nicky Piazza

Nicky Piazza is a teaching assistant at Helenswood, a specialist arts college for girls in St Leonards, near Hastings, East Sussex.

The unusual thing about her job is that two days a week she's based at Hastings FE college, where she supports around 20 Helenswood girls from Years 10 and 11 on vocational courses. Helenswood staff say Nicky Piazza does the job with extraordinary energy and success.

The arrangement, which began two years ago under the auspices of the local education action zone, is a forerunner to the kind of flexibility foreseen in the Tomlinson report on 14-19s. In Hastings it's practised by five schools in the area, each sending a teaching assistant to support its pupils aged 14-16.

At the college, Nicky is like a form tutor, taking the register and checking the girls are in the right place at the right time and getting on with their work. Courses range from plumbing to hairdressing and beauty; Nicky's job is to support the girls' learning and report back to the school and parents.

At a key stage 4 choices meeting, one parent with a daughter on the scheme and another about to join, praised Nicky in the highest possible terms.

"She said Nicky gives 200 per cent and that the students love her," says pastoral support assistant Edwina Fuller who nominated Nicky for our flowers, champagne and chocolates.

Some girls have special needs or are disadvantaged. "Nicky will fight for her students when they can't express themselves well in difficult situations," says Edwina. "She is firm and positive in her expectations of them and is scrupulously fair in the disciplinary role when necessary." She describes her colleague as "a petite person with the heart of a lion".

Is there an unsung hero in your school? Tell Sarah Bayliss, TESFriday editor, about him or her at the address below. Flowers kindly supplied by Marks amp; Spencer

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