It’s hard to believe it’s almost that time again, but following the huge success of our inaugural Talk Education Awards for Innovation in Education last year, we’re currently gearing up to launch our (even bigger and better!) 2023 Awards. Keep a very close eye on our website and our social media channels over the coming weeks and months: we’ll bring you everything you need to know about how to enter (clue: nothing), our shiny new categories for this year, and how our crack team of researchers, informers and educational experts whittle down the entries and choose our winners.
To get you excited, we’ve put last year’s winners back under the spotlight to show why their awards were so well deserved. Our awards set out to reward those who are forging boldly ahead with new, revolutionary ideas that are changing the face of independent education – and we want to sing the praises of schools who are doing inspiring work, whether it’s their use of technology or a new approach to community engagement. Read on to find out why last year’s winners took the top spot, and hear what they’re up to now....
Environmental Achievement: Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai, UAE
We awarded our prize for environmental achievement to the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai for its continued focus on sustainability, one of the four key values underpinning its entire ethos. And since then, it has continued to surge ahead with brilliant initiatives that are setting it apart from the rest. Recently, the school became a partner of the Alliance for Sustainable Schools, a non-profit organisation whose mission it is to address sustainability challenges regarding school uniforms, buses and buildings (SISD’s own building was built from sustainable materials – and uses far less energy than most).
Both pupils and staff have been implementing changes in school too. Early years and primary pupils now have a mud garden to get mucky in and learn about seeds, water, plants, insects and natural habitats. A new organic garden is being used to grow and harvest fruit and vegetables for farm-to-fork school lunches, and an ultra-sustainable rooftop garden has given secondary pupils a fabulous new social space to hang out in between lessons. Coffee beans from the parent and staff café are being composted and used in flower beds – and thanks to a recent ban on plastic, the school estimates that it is saving about 20,000 plastic bottles a month. A flurry of parent and student workshops have seen speakers come in to talk about everything from climate change to eco issues. But most impressively of all, pupils have been busy lobbying COP28 to allow them to attend the conference when it’s held in Dubai in five years – so they can really start making a tangible difference for everyone.
Pupils and staff signing The Alliance for Sustainable Schools Charter
Community Engagement: Tonbridge School, Kent
Charity and community action are woven into the DNA of a Tonbridge education – and the very worthy winner of our Community Engagement awards continues to amaze us with the strength and generosity of its pupil, staff and parent body. Each week, over 120 boys take part in Tonbridge’s Community Action programme, heading out to volunteer and run after-school clubs, host engaging lessons for local primary-school children or take part in classroom mentor schemes, which have been running for over a decade. The school also provides year-round support to a number of longstanding charity partners, including Child Action Lanka and RefugEase.
We were also blown away by the tangible community spirit that continues to ripple through the school. Each year, Pink Day raises thousands for breast cancer charities (boys donate money in exchange for the freedom to wear everything and anything pink), while the annual Novi Sleepout supports a charity for vulnerable young people. Last year’s Giving Day – an enormous, school- wide event – saw every single Tonbridge pupil and teacher take part in a myriad of community initiatives both on- and off-site, and raised a staggering £509,000. The funds will go towards Tonbridge’s mission of doubling its number of Foundation Award bursary recipients by 2028.
James Priory, Tonbridge’s headmaster, says: ‘We strive to ensure that boys become fully connected with the wider community during their time here. Winning the inaugural Talk Education Award for Community Engagement and Charity Fundraising spoke volumes for the year-round dedication and commitment of so many at the school. I was delighted to see recognition for our outreach work, the boys’ numerous volunteering activities and the good use of our facilities made by other schools and the community as a whole.’
Pink Day at Tonbridge
Inspiring Co-Curricular: Dragon School, Oxford
We recognised the Dragon School for its brilliant co-curricular provision and imaginative alternative to traditional Saturday school: QUEST. The optional enrichment programme focuses on developing pupils’ broader interests and skills in a creative and vocational way, driven by the three key principles of ‘discover’, ‘develop’ and ‘dare’ – and makes full use of the school’s wonderful town and countryside hybrid location.
And despite being almost three years into its stride, QUEST certainly isn’t resting on its laurels. The programme continues to innovate, with over 20 new activities added this year (making the list now as long as 70), and highlights include Dungeons and Dragons, basketball, pottery and archery. The school has also listened carefully to pupils and by popular request added fly fishing, girls’ rugby and remote-control car racing to QUEST’s repertoire, as well as expanding the number of places available for popular activities such as clay-pigeon shooting. And it's not just the pupils who are benefitting: netball was recently added to the list of QUEST Prime options for parents too.
Director of QUEST, Harry Paget, says: ‘We are incredibly proud of our QUEST provision, and it is fantastic to see it continue from strength to strength. All of the hard work that goes into the planning and implementation of an enrichment programme like this becomes entirely worth it when you see the children’s excitement at trying a new skill, pride at mastering a difficult task and camaraderie whilst working together to solve a problem.’
Beyond the Curriculum: Godolphin & Latymer School, London
Last year, we recognised Godolphin & Latymer School in London for its brilliant initiatives aimed at pupils looking towards life after school. Just before our awards, the school launched a series of exciting in-house internships through its G&L Futures programme, giving pupils the opportunity to engage with business leaders, experts and professionals while being encouraged to develop the real-life skills that future employers will need. This year, the scheme has gone from strength to strength, with students developing ideas to boost the effectiveness and impact of a local-business loyalty scheme and working closely with the Hammersmith and Fulham Council Climate Alliance on a project to change behaviour and encourage more eco-friendly travel choices in the borough. For Year 9 pupils, the programme is now an integral part of the curriculum, with one timetabled lesson per week focusing solely on these skills.
Lower-sixth students have been getting stuck into more projects, namely the university-run Mentorpreneurship programme, led by OakNorth and LSE Generate. It’s all rooted in social impact, designed to encourage future entrepreneurs to dip their toe into mentoring while supporting entrepreneurial thinking. Pupils have been immersing themselves in workshops at LSE, with additional support, resources, self-learning courses and tutorials delivered in school and via an online platform – and we have no doubt there may be future leaders in their midst.
Year 9s working on their Futures Programme
Best Use of Technology: Giggleswick School, North Yorkshire
Giggleswick is just one of a handful of schools in the UK to be recognised by Microsoft as a Showcase School, demonstrating its commitment to using technology to transform the way it teaches – and changing its culture of learning in order to properly equip students for a changing world. Children from Reception up have access to their own device to ensure they’re connected at all times, with a strong emphasis on teaching pupils to use technology safely and responsibly.
Since winning our award last year, three Giggleswick students went on to claim victory in the National Xbox Academy’s Minecraft: Education Edition Build Challenge, ‘Peace with Nature’. The competition saw pupils work together to build an online sustainable world around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which have been designed to encourage us all to live in peace with nature. Several groups of students entered, with the talented winning team’s work being displayed on Minecraft (and there were a whole host of other exciting goodies too, including a whole class Xbox series event).
Giggleswick is the only Microsoft Showcase School in North Yorkshire, and Digital Future Ready skills are now part of its enhanced sixth-form curriculum. Pupils can sign up for courses and certification in the Digital Media Academy, which includes access to self-study courses including computer science, AI, creative design, game development, digital storytelling and entrepreneurship. There’s also the option to take a course in Microsoft Office Specialist Skills, which sees students study certification in two or more of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And it doesn’t stop there: Giggleswick also proudly has several Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts on staff, an accolade that highlights educators from around the globe who are using technology to create a better learning experience for their students and transform the education industry.
Giggleswick's Minecraft competition winners
Pastoral Care and Wellbeing: Walhampton School, Hampshire
Walhampton’s whole ethos is founded on pastoral care, and to this end each pupil has a designated trusted adult they can confide in and who stays with them throughout their school journey. And it was the school’s ‘Big Conversation’ initiative that caught our attention when we were judging our awards last year, an idea rooted in the concept of articulating the school’s core values of kindness, curiosity and achievement, while giving each and every member of the school community a voice – and the confidence to use it. That might mean pupils questioning their teachers, asking searching questions or feeling empowered to put their opinion and feelings across.
‘Following on from "Our Big Conversation”, we have worked hard to embed our co-created values of kindness, curiosity and achievement in all that we do,’ says Chris Apaloo, Walhampton’s deputy head pastoral. ‘We seek to ensure our values are celebrated and held at the centre of all we do in both policy and practice. Our new Positive Behaviour Policy, which is underpinned by a relational approach to behaviour support and restorative practices, ensures that staff are kind and curious when seeking to achieve positive outcomes for children. We work WITH the children to support them. ‘We have hosted two very successful pastoral days under the tagline of “Kind to Ourselves, Curious about Each Other and Achieving Together”. Last academic year, we welcomed Jemma Roye (Let’s Start a Conversation) to explore identity and race, and just last month we were visited by Chloe Combi, who led a day on social media, influence and self-esteem. At Walhampton, we are committed to preparing children for the world that lies beyond our walls.
‘The school council continues to blaze a trail, the pupil-led People of Power group are holding us accountable in matters relating to equality and our Eco Committee are relentless in their pursuit of saving the planet. For us at Walhampton, winning an award for pastoral care and wellbeing is not about initiatives, headlines or soundbites. It is, and always will be, about the children and, as always, the children are at the heart of all we do here.’
Walhampton's deputy head pastoral, Chris Apaloo
Innovation in Nutrition or Food: Gordonstoun School, Moray
Our ears pricked up when we heard that Gordonstoun had completely redesigned its menus in order to boost pupil wellbeing, concentration and, ultimately exam results, swapping chips for quinoa and packing pupils’ meals with ingredients bursting with antioxidants, omega 3, protein and fibre. It was an admirable and fascinating project – and we loved hearing about the impact the new menus were having on pupils’ performance in the classroom too.
‘At Gordonstoun, we believe that education is more than sitting in a classroom or taking exams. A major part should be outdoor learning and character building, and that’s been at the heart of the school since its inception,’ says Jamie Campbell, Gordonstoun’s catering manager. ‘Through the refectory, we have a major part to play in ensuring students are set up for a typical busy school day. With Covid-19, we spied an opportunity to redesign our menu to create a phased learning menu, based around the needs of the school, which could also be altered to include brain-boosting foods during exam season.’
This meant tailoring the menu to the busy sports calendars (carbohydrate and protein bars on match days, plus heaps of fresh vegetables to help oxygenate pupils’ blood), multiple events and trips that the school provides by matching it with slow-release high energy foods and nutrients. ‘This was our first award and one we are all incredibly proud of,’ adds Mr Campbell. ‘We have built on this since last year and extended our collaboration with students by enabling them to come up with innovative new and healthy menu ideas, which we prepared and cooked, as well as introducing much more high-energy berries, nuts and seeds available every day, to allow people to build their own meal how they wish. The team has been so enthusiastic and the award from Talk Education gave them and the whole school confirmation that what we had achieved, and continue to achieve, is special and unique, much like Gordonstoun.’
A delicious roasted Scottish salmon poke bowl served at Gordonstoun
Bursary Provision: Caldicott School, Buckinghamshire
Last year, Caldicott School introduced its Hitchin Scholarship, aimed at academically able 11+ pupils who excel in sport, music, art or drama but may not be able to afford the school fees. Funded via generous sponsorship from parents, the award offers a certain level of fee remission – but can be supplemented by a fully funded means-tested bursary where there is proven financial need. Best of all, the support doesn’t stop when a boy leaves Caldicott: thanks to the school’s close relationships with the top senior schools in the UK, the aim is to extend the provision the whole way through to 18.
‘It has been incredibly rewarding to formalise the bursarial support we have offered for many years, and to widen access to those boys who may not ordinarily be able to access a Caldicott education,’ says head Jeremy Banks. ‘In turn, the whole school community will benefit from what these boys bring.’ Since last year, the school has taken steps to expand its provision even further, and now has a dedicated development director on the school roll, charged with growing Caldicott’s bursarial support.
Boys at Caldicott School
The Alice Rose Award: Witham Hall Prep School, Lincolnshire, and Westbourne House School, West Sussex
Our Alice Rose Award is a very special award, in memory of Talk Education's co-founder Alice. Very much loved not only by the TE team but by schools and parents alike, she remains a driving force behind Talk Education, and it is thanks to her brilliant vision, her positivity and her inspiration that Talk has grown into the huge success story it is today.
In honour of Alice, we chose two schools that embodied the qualities she was most passionate about – schools where children are allowed to be children, that support growth and learning but allow pupils to climb trees and get muddy knees, and where confident, nurtured, happy pupils enjoy their childhood. Our two winners – Witham Hall and Westbourne House – were chosen by the whole TE team, as well as Alice’s husband James and their three young boys.
‘It was deeply humbling to be awarded the inaugural Alice Rose Award in 2022 alongside Westbourne House,’ says Witham’s head Will Austen. ‘To be recognised in Alice’s name is an honour. I am grateful that there is an award which highlights the importance of guarding childhood, one which sees Witham as “a true home from home” for our children. In a world that moves so fast, rushing young people to grow up and value the savvy, I am proud that Witham Hall is a school where childhood lasts that little bit longer.’
Martin Barker, headmaster of Westbourne House School added: ‘We felt very emotional at Westbourne House on hearing the news that we had been awarded the inaugural Alice Rose Award. We were delighted but at the same time devastated to hear that Alice, who was so passionate about Talk Education and schools and who was a wonderful person to spend time with, had passed away. It meant a lot to us because of all that the award represents. We are incredibly proud of the wonderful sense of freedom that children have here. When a child joins us, they settle in incredibly fast, and I think part of the secret is the balance the day brings: inspiring learning, challenges in and out of the classroom, and multiple opportunities to discover their talents – alongside giant games of Family It played across acres of grounds and long lunchtimes building dens in the woods. You can see the children beam with excitement and satisfaction.’
Our Talk Education Awards for Innovation in Education 2023 will be launching soon… Watch this space!