27th November 2021

By Brendan McDaid and Bill Heaney

Two trailblazing headteachers have been named as the most inspirational educators from amongst  thousands of nominees for the title from across the UK.

Marie Lindsay, former principal of St Mary’s College in Derry (Catholic) has won a Gold Award in the Pearson National Teaching Awards for The Award for Lifetime Achievement, while Lisneal College (Protestant)  principal Michael Allen won The Award for Headteacher of the Year in a Secondary School.

The awards came as part of a week-long celebration of teaching which ended on Sunday at a prestigious ceremony celebrating all 102 Silver Winners of the Pearson National Teaching Awards.

At the ceremony, Marie and Michael were honoured alongside their fellow Gold Winners across 15 categories as the best of the UK’s educators.

Lisneal College principal Michael Allen and former St Mary's College principal Marie Lindsay.

Lisneal College principal Michael Allen and former St Mary’s College principal Marie Lindsay.
Both educators have been praised in a statement accompanying the awards announcement: “Marie Lindsay has devoted her 35-year career as an educator to inspiring generations of young women in the city of Derry and beyond.

“Her leadership of St Mary’s College has had a life changing impact on her pupils, their families and the wider community, and the school is recognised as one of the highest performing all ability secondary schools in Northern Ireland.

“This outstanding journey is underpinned by the innovative ways that Marie engaged pupils, parents, business and educational communities and empowered staff in driving continuous improvement, embracing the Shared Education Programme aimed at overcoming religious and cultural divisions in Northern Ireland.

“In the most challenging of circumstances Marie has built an enormously strong and resilient school community.

“Michael Allen joined Lisneal College in 2015 as headteacher and his commitment, leadership and inspiration to all stakeholders has been nothing less than outstanding every day since.

“His powerful vision and strategic approach now means that Lisneal College is not just a name recognised locally but globally.

“Michael at all times puts the needs of his students first. He advocates on their behalf and is a wonderful role model with regard to his work ethic, strong value system, accountability and professionalism.

“Michael’s outstanding leadership has resulted in a dramatic increase in school enrolment and through gradual change and improvement; he has taken the College’s provision to another level.”

These encomiums for both head teachers should be viewed as a boost for campaigners against schools being segregated on religious grounds, as happens here in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute.

It will be interesting to see if any members of the Scottish parliament and clergy of all denominations move ahead to speak openly about integration which is something they seldom raise in public or speak hesitantly about in private.

Local authorities and the Scottish Parliament will surely have to move in the direction of totally integrated schools since members of the many thousands of immigrants in Scotland will inevitably ask for parity with Catholics.

Monsignor Kelly and his assistant priests pictured in the grounds of St Patrick’s Church.

The Education (Scotland) Act of 1916, which was campaigned vigorously for by Monsignor Hugh Canon Kelly, the redoubtable parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, who was widely known as Pope of the Clyde, was elated when it was passed by the Westminster parliament.

Irish immigrants, who were mainly Catholics, although there was a  fair number of Protestants, mainly unemployed shipyard workers and poor farm labourers, who were forced to take the immigrant boats to Greenock and Broomielaw in the Clyde.

Many of them settled in West Dunbartonshire, where they worked in the Clyde shipyards, and in Argyll, where they worked on farms or in major civil engineering projects such as the West Highland railway line and the construction of hydro dams.

Sectarianism has been a simmering problem in Scotland since and the fire of bigotry and prejudice is regularly fuelled whenever Rangers (Protestant) and Celtic (Catholics) play oppose each other in front of many thousands of fans in hate-filled stands and terracings at Celtic Park and Ibrox.

That trouble-torn ritual appears to have become worse in recent years as has violence at Orange and Republican parades, which continue to take place in Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire despite the fact that many members of the public have pleaded with the council licensing authoritised to have them banned.

Meanwhile, the Pearson National Teaching Award winners have been honoured for their incredible work supporting learners across the country. Each award winner has repeatedly gone above and beyond their role to change the lives of their students and help them move towards a brighter future.”

The Pearson National Teaching Awards is an annual celebration of excellence in education, founded in 1998 by Lord Puttnam to recognise the life-changing impact an inspirational teacher can have on the lives of the young people they work with. The 2022 Pearson National Teaching Awards open for entry on Friday 26 November 2021.

Marie Lindsay said: “I’m so shocked yet so delighted. I owe everything to our St Mary’s College family of pupils, staff, parents, Governors and the wider community in Derry who helped and supported me throughout my career.

“I want to thank especially the current Principal Brendan McGinn, Vice Principals Katrina Kealey and Roisin Rice, and the many members of the extended St Mary’s family who nominated me and somehow persuaded the judges that I was worthy of this very special award. Sincerest thanks to them, to Pearson, and The One Show for my happy, humble heart.”

The late Nobel laureate John Hume, who was himself a teacher, and his wife, Pat (left) pictured at the Humbert International Summer School,  Founded to promote peace in Northern Ireland. Others include school directors  John Cooney and Tony McGarry, Irish education minister Mary O’Rourke, and BIshop Henderson, the Church of Ireland prelate of Killala.  Picture by Bill Heaney

Marie also had words of praise for the late Nobel laureate John Hume and his wife, Pat, who had done so much to bring peace and reconciliation to Derry.

Sir Michael Morpurgo, celebrated author and former Children’s laureate, and President of the Teaching Awards Trust, said: “People of all ages will always remember that Marie, that wonderful teacher who made such a difference in their lives.

“The teacher will never know how many lives they have changed, or the impact they have made on so many families, but our hope is that these awards help show our gratitude.”

Sharon Hague, Managing Director of Pearson School Qualifications, said: “Marie Lindsay and Michael Allen are shining examples of the wonderful educators who work tirelessly across the country to provide the best possible experience for their students, and we thank them all.

“Throughout the awards we’ve heard so many inspirational stories of school and college staff who show such exceptional dedication to their students, to their colleagues, and to their communities. Our congratulations go to all winners on their award.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I would like to congratulate Marie Lindsay and Michael Allen for this recognition of their amazing work and dedication to their students. Winning one of these awards is a terrific achievement and is testament to Marie and Michael’s skill, commitment and passion for teaching.

“We are lucky enough to have some of the best teachers in the world and I would like to thank every single one of our education staff for their hard work supporting children and young people, especially during the pandemic.”

Paul Mattias, National Director of Hays Education, supporter of The Award for Headteacher of the Year, said: “We work with thousands of schools across the country and know too well the impact of a truly inspirational leader. Michael Allen is clearly that, and their story shows us how respected they are by everyone who comes into contact with them. They are thoroughly deserving winners of this award, and we wish them all the best for their future career.”

The 2021 Pearson National Teaching Awards are open to every school across the UK. The awards were established by Lord Puttnam CBE in 1998 and are managed by the Teaching Awards Trust, an independent charity. The vision of the charity is to recognise and celebrate excellence in education. It does this through its public-facing ‘Thank A Teacher’ campaign, and through the Pearson National Teaching Awards

John and Pat Hume, pictured on the Peace Bridge in Derry with US President Bill Clinton, who presented the winners with their awards.

Liam Neeson’s pride as Ballymena’s first integrated primary opens

Liam Neeson has a special message for the staff and pupils at Braeside Integrated Primary and Nursery School as it officially opened in his home town of Ballymena

Liam Neeson had a special message for the staff and pupils at Braeside Integrated Primary and Nursery School as it officially opened in his home town of Ballymena.

Hollywood star Liam Neeson and comedian Tim McGarry have joined forces to hail a new start at Ballymena’s Braidside Integrated Primary School, writes MARK BAIN

While local legend Liam Neeson recorded a message of support for the event, comedian and broadcaster Tim McGarry helped pupils, staff and governors unveil a commemorative plaque to mark the official opening of their new multi-million pound primary and nursery school.

Also in attendance for the ceremony were Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen and integrated education champion, Baroness May Blood.

Ballymena born actor Neeson even recorded a special message for the pupils and parents — “I want to pay tribute to those founding parents who had the vision, courage and determination to establish Ballymena’s first ever integrated primary school,” said Neeson.”And with such a superb new school with first class facilities I know Braidside’s future is going to be even brighter.

“I am so proud of you all for bringing integrated education to my home town of Ballymena and for helping to make it an even better place for everyone.”

Meanwhile, comedian and broadacaster Tim McGarry, said it was a privilege to help the school celebrate the start of a new era.

“For many years I have been delighted to support the cause of integrated education and help out with many fundraising and profile raising events,” he said.

“Today is what it is all about – enabling children to be able to learn and play together irrespective of their religious and cultural backgrounds, and to form lasting friendships, which hopefully they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

Also attending the ceremony, Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen added: “Today is very special day for everyone connected to Braidside and I am delighted to part of the celebrations.

“My department has a statutory duty to ‘encourage and facilitate’ integrated education and this investment is just one example of that. I am sure all the children and staff will enjoy their wonderful new facilities.”

And Principal of Braidside IPS, Julie McAuley, said: “I am so proud to lead this brilliant school and want to recognise all the founding parents and staff who had the vision and commitment to establish Braidside.

“It has been a taken a long time to get the facilities the children and staff deserves but we got there in the end thanks to the efforts of many people.

“Without the support of organisations like the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, the Integrated Education Fund and the Department of Education, we would no doubt still be in mobile classrooms.

“I also want to thank the Treasury for making integrated education an integral part of Fresh Start Agreement and for making our dreams come true.”

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