School communication practitioner wins national SEN award at glitzy ceremony in London

A Derby woman is celebrating after winning a national special educational needs awards at a glitzy ceremony in London.

Karen Brownhill, communication practitioner at St Giles School in Derby, beat off tough competition from across the UK to win the Teaching and Learning Support Staff category of the annual nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs) awards.

The criteria for this category is ‘anyone in a teaching and learning support role who has demonstrated commitment and excellent practice which has improved the outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs.’

Winners were announced during a ceremony at the Waldorf Hilton hotel on Friday, October 19, presented by radio and TV presenter Vanessa Feltz.

Karen Brownhill, communications practitioner at St Giles School in Derby. Penguin PR: public relations, media and communications

“It was a lovely evening and I met so many inspirational candidates,” said Karen, who has worked at St Giles School for almost 18 years.

“It was an honour to be nominated and it was such a surprise when my name was called out.

“I am passionate about giving children a voice and supporting them with their communication skills.”

Karen joined St Giles as a teaching assistant but was encouraged by Jill Moore, a teacher at the school, to take the role of school communication practitioner.

She trained in Makaton – a language programme that uses signs and symbols with spoken language to encourage communication skills and develop speech – four years ago.

And this summer Karen, who started her teaching career working with triplets with special educational needs at a neighbouring mainstream primary school, taught pupils and staff at St Giles how to sign the England football anthem ‘Three Lions’ using Makaton. The school were filmed for television with the clip being used ahead of England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia.

She says that she is ‘just doing her job’.

“I treat every single child here at St Giles like I would want my own child to be treated,” she said.

“My role as communications practitioner is to motivate the youngsters here and drive them on. It’s a luxury working here though; I thoroughly enjoy coming into the school every morning. I’m so lucky.”

A highlight in Karen’s teaching career was leading a choir of youngsters from St Giles in an X-Factor style Christmas carol competition in front of the mayor, in Derby’s Intu shopping centre last year.

She said: “We were competing against mainstream schools and were given some tough songs to sing.

“It was really quite emotional and we were given a standing ovation by the crowd. I was so proud of everyone for taking part.”

Executive Headteacher Clive Lawrence says that “Karen is a joy to work with and is a truly an inspiring member of our team. She has played an active role in supporting pupils with a range of communication needs and she has gone above and beyond her duties by sharing her knowledge, skills and experience with parents/carers to support their child’s learning at home, and also with other staff who are new or have limited experience in SEND.

“Karen’s award is a true reflection of the hard work and dedication of all of the support staff at St. Giles School. I’m am very proud of Karen’s work and that of my team as whole.”

Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive of nasen, said: “The standard of nominations for the nasen Awards 2018 has been extremely high and the judges were impressed with both the quantity and the quality of the submissions they received. “


For further information please contact Kerry Ganly at Penguin PR on 01332 416228 or email

Background to nasen

nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs) is the leading professional membership body for SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) in the UK. nasen provides professional development opportunities through conferences, events, webinars and webcasts as well as a range of online resources. nasen produces a range a publications, including a bi-monthly magazine, a book series , three quarterly peer-reviewed journals and a suite of miniguides. nasen hosts the Department for Education’s SEND Schools’ Workforce contract the SEND Gateway, a shop window for resources and CPD across the SEND sector.

Background to Awards

The nasen awards was relaunched in 2017 to celebrate nasen’s 25th anniversary and it was so successful that it has now become part of the annual cycle of nasen activity. The nasen Awards are a celebration of effective practice and inspirational individuals across the UK who are beacons of excellence for the wider SEND community.

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