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The real stars of the show

Jamelia and the Sugarbabes are upstaged by inspirational staff in classrooms nationwide

At 27, Julie Puxley still has a girlish giggle. But then, the new primary teacher of the year has spent her entire life absolutely surrounded by children.

Her parents fostered more than 30 children while she was growing up in Saffron Walden, Essex - infants, children and troubled teens.

"The house was like a Tardis. We had a local carpenter who sawed all the rooms up, really small rooms with bunk beds, and we'd all just get in and enjoy it," she said.

She remembers one boy in particular, eight-year-old Frederick, who had a lot of emotional problems. "In his first lessons he was so worried about his next meal, because he'd been so neglected as a child," she said. "But I remember listening to him read one night and thinking, 'My goodness, look what these teachers have done, he's just found such a passion in life for reading'. It was an amazing gift that his teacher had given him."

So there was never any question what she would do when she left school: after doing a degree at Birmingham university, she enrolled in the fast-track teaching programme.

When she married two years ago, she invited her class from RA Butler school to the wedding. The photos show a dozen children hanging from the hems of her frothy white bridal gown.

Her colleagues noticed her energy and affinity for the children - though at the ceremony on Sunday at the Theatre Royal, in London, as she collected the award for best primary school teacher, she paid tribute to the deputy head who explained to her, "you can never use enough glitter".

But it was still a big step when the couple, who do not have any children of their own, decided to foster a child, five-year-old Craig.

"Craig's got high-functioning autism which means he can't go to the toilet on his own, and he can't speak at all," Mrs Puxley said.

"It was very daunting for us. The first night he came, he slept so well but both of us didn't sleep a wink. So we got a little glimpse into parenthood."

Now a deputy head at Elsenham Church of England school in Essex, Mrs Puxley retains memories of her school days in Saffron Walden.

"We had a little school vegetable garden," she said. "And I remember making radish sandwiches. I always remember sunshine and being outside.

"My new school has a massive meadow that can give the children the same kind of memories that I have of school."

Tim Brighouse, 21

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