'Child whisperer' who saved a pupil's life

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Assistant head who talked girl out of suicide is nominated for award

Assistant head who talked girl out of suicide is nominated for award

An assistant headteacher known as the `child whisperer' because her colleagues say her ability to calm distressed or violent children bordered on the uncanny, has been shortlisted for this year's national teaching awards.

One pupil at Shotton Hall School in Peterlee, County Durham, told the judges she would "not be here now" if it had not been for Val Bell, who talked her out of an attempt to commit suicide.

Ms Bell has spent her entire 35-year career at the school, helping three generations through tough patches in their young lives. She has won the Ted Wragg award for lifetime achievement in the North East and Cumbria round, and goes forward for the national award to be announced in the autumn.

Ms Bell's successes include helping two boys overcome bullying and supporting a girl who had lost a friend in a motorway accident.

Her headteacher, Ian Mowbray, said: "She has this amazing ability with youngsters, to calm them and soothe their brows. She has an incredible knack to get the information she needs to move on."

Ms Bell, 56, started as a modern languages specialist, but as her talents with children developed, she was made head of pastoral care. "I can't tell you what it is. I can just calm confrontation," she said. "No one taught me. I'm quite a calm person myself, and I have links with the kids because I have been part of the community for so long."

They all have Ms Bell's father, a miner, to thank. She had originally intended to be an accountant, but he urged her into teaching as it was a "good career for a woman".

Ms Bell was honoured along with dozens of others at regional awards ceremonies held over the past few weeks. The regional winners will gather in London for the national awards in October.

They include Olly White, 30, from Kentisbeare Primary in Collumpton, Devon, who was named primary teacher of the year in the South West after he swam the Channel to raise funds to transport his pupils to swimming lessons. Mr White now threatens to show the video of the 11hr 43min swim every time he needs to make them behave.


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