What they did
Independence is the key to helping special-needs pupils make the most of their education and lives. Travel is particularly important. Research shows pupils become socially isolated when they leave school if they have not learnt how to get around on their own.
Beacon Hill is a new special school for pupils aged between three and 19 with severe learning difficulties and autism, and has concentrated on encouraging independent travel. Most of its pupils come to school by taxi so they do not know how to use public transport or how to cross the road safely.
Beacon Hill has its own travel training facility, with real traffic lights and pelican and zebra crossings in the car park. All the special schools and five colleges in Tyne and Wear now use it. Three travel trainers also teach young people how to cope with independent travel. The result? Many pupils now travel to and from schools and colleges on their own.
Next, it plans to set up a small Metro station with a ticket machine, platform and electronic doors that will give pupils confidence to use the real Newcastle Metro.
Teachers believe the programme improves literacy, numeracy, behaviour, communication and confidence.
What the judges said
Beacon Hill was a clear winner because of its innovative approach in the important field of autism, according to the judges. The school had developed a great idea that other schools and colleges were adopting. They said: "The independent travel training facility is a wonderful initiative promoting independence for all pupils. The focus on skills for life throughout the school is admirable."
You could do it too
Other schools took a variety of approaches to tackle many different special educational needs. One created a "forest school" programme for pupils with educational, social and behavioural difficulties; another built learning-needs profiles for each pupil so that it was easier to see a child's underlying strengths; another offers "praise pods" to promote a culture of positivity. Meanwhile, another school offers access to an IT programme before school called Fast ForWord, which trains the brain to hear more accurately and quickly.
About the awards
The TES Schools Awards, or TESSAs, celebrate and reward the professionalism and flair of teams which make an outstanding contribution to primary and secondary schools in the maintained and independent sectors. This year's event attracted hundreds of entries and the panel of judges was impressed by their range and quality. Next year's TESSAs will be held at London's Grosvenor House hotel on June 17, 2010, and is open for entries at www.tes.co.ukawards.