The winners of the Telegraph / Aldi School Champion Awards highlight the gold standard of ability and attitude that is on show in British classrooms
Determination, dedication, enthusiasm, inspiration, teamwork... these ingredients have gone into making every member of Team GB who will be hoping to shine during a huge summer of sport.
But it’s not only world-class athletes who have those qualities. The five winners of the Telegraph / Aldi School Champion Awards showed that gold medal-worthy ability and attitude is on display on a daily basis in Britain’s schools.
Fittingly, Olympic champion Sally Gunnell was on hand to present the five with their trophies at a special ceremony at the Telegraph’s London offices and she was struck by the hard-working, down-to-earth characters that had won through.
“They all seemed very surprised by the attention and very humble in what they all do,” she said. “I hope these awards make them realise the outstanding people they are and to keep up the great work.”
The awards set out to highlight the significant impact staff, pupils and parents can make in helping Britain’s little champions grow, whether that is academically, in music, dance or arts, or building the skills and determination to succeed at a sport, activity or interest.
Launched in March, the competition was split into five categories: male student, female student, teacher, parent and lunch staff – with each winner receiving £500 and that coveted trophy.
A highly competitive shortlist was drawn up and four judges – Sally, nutritional therapist Catherine Jeans, Telegraph sportswriter Gareth A Davies and a representative from Aldi – had the unenviable task of choosing the winners. It took hours and the debate was often heated – “We might have to have a fight over this one,” said Sally at one point. But the five winners have all the ingredients that make a champion but, as we see each displayed one characteristic that made them particularly special...
Determination: Cormac O’Hara
The 15-year-old from Glasgow suffers from autism, epilepsy and severe anxiety, a combination that made the move to high school two years ago too difficult and traumatic to deal with. Cormac was hospitalised and according to his mother Yvonne both he and she put his recovery from that low point down to running. He took to his new passion to such an extent that he recently became Scottish under-17 1,500 metres champion in the [Paralympic] T20 category. And his dream? “Tokyo 2020,” he says without hesitation.
“When I read about the competition I thought, he fits the criteria perfectly,” Yvonne says. “He has overcome challenges and turned things around himself.
“The Aldi association appealed to me as well because Cormac had had real trouble eating and we’re big now on eating properly. Now, as a prospective athlete, it’s part and parcel of being fit and well.”
Enthusiasm: Karen Trafford
Karen is the deputy headteacher of a primary school in Farnham, Surrey – the same school she attended as a child and her children went to as well. She is now in her fifties but shows no sign of easing up.
With responsibility for PE and extra-curricular sport, Karen has managed to cajole all 400-plus pupils at St Polycarp’s School to take part in at least one sport in addition to PE. That particularly impressed Sally.
Karen has also introduced the Daily Run, a version of the Daily Mile set up by St Ninian’s School in Stirling. “The juniors do 15 minutes a day and the infants do 10 minutes,” says Karen. “At the beginning of the project last year, 15 per cent could run a mile in the school. By March, 56 per cent could and all of Year 6 now can, which was the target. The staff have noticed a difference in behaviour and the children are so pleased with their achievement.”
Dedication: Evie Donovan
“She completely stands out,” said Catherine Jeans. “She’s amazing, especially at that age. It has to be her.” Nine-year-old Evie, from Stafford, made a huge impression on all the judges, first for being moved by the refugee crisis in Europe and second, for deciding to do something about it.
Evie says: “We were buying stuff for our Christmas shoe boxes, which we do every year, and I’d seen about the refugees on the news and I just thought we could do shoe boxes for them like we do at Christmas. It started off as a few and then grew and grew.”
Evie collected and filled 762 shoe boxes and filled them with aid for refugees and has sent 200 pairs of shoes to a Greek island.
Inspiration: Sarah Cresswell
Parent helpers are the lifeblood of many schools but Sarah has gone further than most helpers with her after-school cookery club at Gretton Primary Academy in Northamptonshire.
“I teach children how to cook from scratch, all clean food,” says Sarah, whose son Ethan, six, is a pupil at the school. “My gran and my aunt would come to our house when we were kids and they and my mum used to cook from scratch. My uncle had a plot of land in the village I live in now and we’d cook his vegetables.”
Sarah organises the club and pays for all ingredients herself. “I don’t mind: I love doing it.”
Teamwork: Amanda Wilson
Meigle Primary School near Dundee is a small school of only two classes. Amanda is a school support worker – “I’m classroom assistant-cum-office staff... a bit of everything”.
That is certainly true. Among other things, Amanda runs an after-school bike club, a dance class, cooking classes and a healthy tuck shop.
“We just all roll up our sleeves,” she says. “Although I’ve got this award, I don’t feel it’s just for me personally. All the other staff members work very hard. There’s such a great feeling within the school that we’re all more than happy to do the extra hours, the clubs and everything like that.”