Rory Bremner, Christina WellsChristina Wells: 'fed up with the cuts'

Sally McKeown kept a brief for for SEN and ICT at the TES Schools Awards

There I was drinking champagne before midday at the Hilton in Park Lane, London. I was attending the TES Schools Awards and was the guest of Real Training, sponsors of the Outstanding Special Needs School of the Year Award.

Imagine my delight when I found that three of the six schools shortlisted for the Special School of the Year Award appear in my forthcoming book Brilliant Ideas for using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom which I wrote with training expert Angie McGlashon. It seems we have a talent for spotting the best practitioners!

First of the finalists was The Bridge School in Shropshire (Brilliant Idea 11 – 3D technology for life skills from Amazing Interactives Technology). This is a business and enterprise college rated outstanding by Ofsted. Second of the finalists was Frank Wise School in  Banbury. I have already written about head teacher Sean O'Sullivan in the Innovators series and the school is one of my personal favourites. The book features the school's work with podcasting and iMovies. Then there was Newman School in Rotherham (Brilliant idea 2 – digital animation). This was described by the judges as being, "in the vanguard of innovation and customised learning."

I was also delighted to see that Bev Evans, (featured as Brilliant idea 22 for her work with 2Simple's Purple Mash) was given a special award as TES Resources Contributor of the Year. Bev is a stalwart of the TeachMeet scene and many will have downloaded her lessons plans and resources from the TES site.

The winner of the Special School of the Year Award was New School at West Heath in Sevenoaks. The school has a small castle in its grounds that is probably the least remarkable thing about it. It was formerly West Heath Girls School where Princess Diana and her two sisters were educated. It has also received generous financial support from Mohamed Al Fayed. These days it is an independent school with a therapeutic unit which specialises in treating children who are severely traumatised.

New School's 'Heart' unitNew School's 'Heart' unitChristina Wells, the principal, told awards host Rory Bremner, "I was fed up with the cuts and being told by the government and local authority what I couldn't have so we set up own unit. It is called Heart and children spend time here when they first arrive at the school until we understand their needs."

The unit has big sofas and a dog called Poppy and is designed to feel as unlike a school or an institution as possible.  The new pupils spend their first month here while the staff see how they can help them. Children come from all over the country and about a third are boarders. Some will never be able to go home again.  "We have 120 emotionally traumatised children who have been bullied to the point of suicide," said Christina. "Some have been raped or witnessed murders."

Mark Turner, managing director of Real Training, said, "It is really heart-warming to hear what these special schools have achieved. We would like to congratulate New School at West Heath on becoming the Outstanding Special Needs School of the Year for the contribution they make to the lives of very vulnerable children.

Outstanding ICT and learning at Essa Academy – inclusive too

Inclusive ICT is a feature of the winner of the Outstanding ICT Learning Initiative or Partnership category. The winner, the Essa Academy in Bolton, hit national headlines when it issued all learners and all members of staff (not just teachers) with iPod Touches. Teachers also have iPads and MacBook Airs. Essa has a radical and creative curriculum and access to "anywhere, anytime" personal technology enables that.

Shortlist for Outstanding Special Needs School of the Year (Sponsored by Real Training)

The Bridge School, Telford, Shropshire
Frank Wise School, Banbury, Oxfordshire
James Brindley School, Birmingham
Newman School, Rotherham
The New School Butterstone, Dunkeld, Perthshire
The New School at West Heath, Sevenoaks, Kent

TES Schools Awards - winners

Real Training runs the National Award for SEN Co-ordination, an essential qualification for special needs co-ordinators (Sencos). They also offer the Certificate of Competence in Education Testing which enables schools to bring expert assessment in-house and so save money. They have concentrated their efforts on online training for staff so we have a shared interest in special needs and technology.

Brilliant Ideas for using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom by Sal McKeown and Angie McGlashon is to be published by Routledge in November.

Sally McKeownSally McKeown is a freelance writer and is an expert in special needs and inclusion