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Talk Education’s Awards for Innovation in Education: What are our 2023 winners up to now?

By Talk Education
10 April 2024

We’re gearing up for the launch of our 2024 Talk Education Awards for Innovation in Education, so make sure you keep a very close eye on our website and social media channels over the coming weeks. We’ll be bringing you everything that schools need to know about how to enter, the lowdown on this year’s categories and information on how our crack team of researchers, informers and educational experts spend the summer locked away to whittle down the entries, pick our shortlist and crown our winners.

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 inspiring eco-awareness or a fresh approach to community engagement. To help schools feel inspired, we’ve put our 2023 winners back under the spotlight to show why their awards were so well deserved, and what they’ve been up to since taking the top spot.

Environmental Achievement: Highfield and Brookham, Hampshire

We awarded our prize for environmental achievement to Highfield and Brookham in recognition of its superb eco-efforts across the board. What stood out for us was the school’s slew of initiatives that go far beyond lip service, alongside its admirable ambition to become carbon neutral by 2030. Its woodchip-burning biomass boiler provides 85 per cent of the energy needed to heat the school; solar panels on the roof of outhouses provide power; an extensive wildflower-planting scheme is in progress (recently given a boost thanks to a grant from the South Downs National Park Trust); and staff have been busy coppicing and thinning trees in the school’s woodland to help native trees flourish.

It's safe to say that Highfield and Brookham certainly hasn't been resting on its laurels since winning the award. In October, pupils’ latest eco-initiative, Project Food Waste, was born. Inspired by the UN’s sustainability goal of responsible consumption and production, boarders teamed up with the school’s catering team to ensure that all excess food waste is repurposed rather than thrown away – and in doing so, weekly waste has been cut by 21 per cent. Roast pork served at lunch is turned into stir-fry for supper; overripe bananas left over from sports matches are whipped up into banana cake; and last year’s Halloween pumpkins became soup – with the seeds baked in bread. The catering team has been making positive changes too, logging and weighing the amount of waste after every meal, eschewing cling film in favour of reusable containers and using biodegradable baking paper. And with posters displayed all around the school about the positive impact the project is having, Highfield and Brookham is getting one step closer to its brilliant 2030 goal.

Highfield and Brookham

Best use of technology: Caterham Prep School, Surrey

Caterham Prep has been embracing technology and innovation for as long as we can remember, but that’s not just by providing pupils with laptops to tap away on in class. We were mightily impressed by the school’s knockout Innovation Centre (packed with state-of-the-art kit, including not one but four 3D printers), where children are encouraged to adopt a brilliant ‘why not’ philosophy, as well as EDGE, the schoolwide digital and innovation curriculum that promotes problem solving and critical thinking while preparing children for a world that’s constantly evolving.

There have been some very exciting things going on since Caterham Prep’s win. With AI bursting onto the scene over the past few years, staff at both the prep and senior schools were keen to embrace it from an early stage while ensuring that pupils could use it in a safe way that enhanced their learning rather than providing shortcuts. And so, with a machine-learning engineer on staff (Caterham is the only school in the UK with this in-house role), Rileybot, Caterham’s AI-powered classroom assistant, was born. Developed to behave as a personal teaching assistant for every child (but, crucially, not give them answers), it has been built to recognise each pupil’s age and needs – whether they are the fastest learner in need of stretching and extension tasks, or someone who could benefit from a little extra support. Used in both the classroom by teachers and at home to help out with homework, research or revision (safety sits front and centre: there are multiple layers of security, and teachers can access pupil/Rileybot interactions), it’s there to guide, coach and advise, but certainly not spoon-feed. So far, Rileybot has been busy making such a mark that the school’s digital and innovation leads are now in talks with the Department of Education – and we can’t wait to see where the next year takes it.


Bursary Provision: Wellington College, Berkshire

Since its inception in 2012, Wellington College’s socially transformative Prince Albert Foundation has been going from strength to strength and doing fantastic work to help widen access to the school – and open up independent education to families who might never have been in a position to consider it. Via the foundation, Wellington awards up to 15 fully funded scholarships each year, and by September 2025 it hopes to hit its target of 40 scholars throughout the school.

The full benefits of the programme are laid bare in the experiences of two recent scholarship recipients, both of whom joined Wellington in 2021 from their school in east London and sat their A-levels here last summer. Esther Gerezdi’s A*, A and A won her a place at LSE to read law and anthropology, while Space Clottey’s A*, A and B led to a full scholarship to Emory College in Atlanta to read computer science and maths. Both pupils are evangelical about the opportunities the Prince Albert Foundation has given them. ‘I got to dip my toes into practically every field I could be interested in, and the environment was always so supportive,’ says Space. ‘It is a truly life-changing experience that cannot be matched,’ adds Esther. ‘It has made me more confident and has allowed me to make some of the greatest friends, who I will always cherish.’

Prince Albert Foundation 2023 graduates

Pastoral Care and Wellbeing: Eton End School, Berkshire

When she landed the top job at Eton End in 2022, head Rachael Cox made it her mission to put pastoral care and pupil wellbeing at the heart of everything the school does. And it was one of her most radical moves that led the school to our award: a total classroom redesign, completed in collaboration with a team of eminent child psychologists. It was out with bright colours and overwhelming display boards in favour of calming, neutral colours; wooden chairs were swapped for squishy bar stools and bean bags; and harsh strip lighting was ditched in favour of cosy lamps. ‘Children will always achieve their best when they have a sense of emotional and psychological safety as well as being physically comfortable,’ said Mrs Cox at the time.

Over the year, the overhaul has been making a big impact. ‘We have seen behaviour incidents reduced – and importantly, children are much more emotionally aware and secure,’ says Mrs Cox. The school has continued to develop its therapeutic training programme for staff – and prompted many fascinating discussions around this revolutionary pedagogical approach. The new classroom layouts have encouraged staff to rethink their teaching styles too. ‘We are far more likely to see staff sitting around a table or next to a child on the sofa than previously, when they were based at the front of the classroom.’ No doubt many schools will adopt a similar approach in the years to come.

Head Rachael Cox in one of Eton End's redesigned classrooms

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Bryanston School, Dorset

Last year, we gave Bryanston recognition for its work helping raise awareness of gender inequality, alongside a raft of other equity-related initiatives that go above and beyond to make a genuine impact and ensure that every single member of the school community feels included, represented and celebrated. A few years ago, the school joined forces with Bold Voices, an award-winning social enterprise that helps young people challenge and address the root cause of gender inequality and gender-based violence – which, in turn, led to the launch of Bryanston’s now annual Nurturing Equality Festival, run by sixth-formers in partnership with a handful of local primary schools. It aims to demonstrate how to recognise and challenge stereotypes and different types of gender equality, with workshops for children in Years 5 and 6 involving discussion, movement and games.

Now in its third year, the Nurturing Equality Festival is a firm fixture in the school calendar. ‘It is playing a key role in helping to bring young people together from schools right across our local community and to provide them with the opportunity to discuss the harmful effects of gender stereotypes,’ says Oli Nicholson, Bryanston’s EDI lead. Since winning the award, Bryanston now has a dedicated EDI prefect, who was selected following a thorough application and interview process. Their role includes working with staff throughout the year to ensure that events such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Pride are respected and celebrated, from whole school assemblies to art displays. This year, the school has also introduced new discussion groups, including a weekly LGBTQ+ group for pupils, started using gender-neutral language on its website and held a recent staff inset day to focus on LGBTQ+ topics. ‘We are continuing to build on the positive outcomes from our pioneering approach in such an important area of school life, and the pupil-led EDI projects and initiatives are continuing to evolve and develop to ensure their continued relevance and effectiveness,’ says Oli.

Bryanston sixth formers hosting interactive sessions with pupils from local primary schools as part of the 2024 Nurturing Equality Festival 

Community Engagement or Charity Fundraising: Port Regis School, Dorset

Port Regis has put a unique spin on community engagement – and it was the school’s incredibly special Second World War veterans’ project that caught our eye and led it to be crowned the winner of this award. For many years, the school’s head, Titus Mills, has led annual pilgrimages to the battlefields at Arnhem in Holland, bringing history lessons alive in the most powerful and visceral way. Of course, many schools run these sorts of trips, but it's Port Regis’s entirely different angle that really impressed us. Rather than just visiting the scene of fierce fighting 80 years ago, pupils have been busy building strong bonds with the very last veterans and their families and researching deceased soldiers’ lives ahead of the trip – thus helping to safeguard their stories and legacy. Some chat to the veterans on the phone from the very spot where they fought, while others have been busy raising money for elderly relatives to accompany pupils on future trips, allowing them to make one final visit to their graves.

‘It was a tremendous honour for Port Regis to win this award, and a fitting tribute to the powerful stories our school has been telling over many years of a brave generation that has almost passed away,’ says Mr Mills. For the children, learning is unlike any other history lesson they might have experienced. ‘These stories will stay with me forever,’ says one Year 8 pupil.

Port Regis pupils meeting with veterans

Entrepreneurship and Business: DLD College London, London

DLD College London really does talk the talk when it comes to preparing pupils for a jobs market that doesn’t yet exist. Its efforts to adapt and embrace the ever-changing digital career opportunities of the future were what piqued our interest – starting with the introduction of an innovative new BTec in esports. Designed to help prepare students for careers in industries such as cyber security, software development, analytics, digital engineering, virtual reality and much more, the qualification has been a huge success since it launched at the school in 2022, and was the precursor to an innovative new Year 9 curriculum that is about to wrap up its first year.

‘We looked at the World Economic Forum and the skills that are going to be needed for the future, and we’ve designed a curriculum around that, combining traditional subjects with cutting-edge, innovative subjects,’ says Dr Sarah Watson, the school’s vice-principal academic. Alongside a slew of conventional subjects, Year 9 students study more unconventional ones – including NFTs and cryptocurrencies – ahead of choosing exciting and relevant BTec courses in the likes of sports management and business enterprise. A digital futures course offers specific modules designed to prepare students for careers in the modern workforce, including blockchain, coding, AI and web design. And the school’s unique ‘urban schools project’ gives pupils the opportunity to get out and about each week and make full use of everything London has to offer as a classroom, working in cross-curricular projects, getting involved in the community and developing their research, inquiry and reflection skills. It’s all part of DLD College’s efforts to equip students with the skills they need to excel as they take on the careers of the future.

DLD College London

Inspiring Sporting Activities: Eastbourne College, East Sussex

This academic year got off to a flying start for Eastbourne College’s sports department, which has so far seen elite athletes lift two independent schools’ national swimming trophies, one pupil represent their country in the Hungarian national football team and the girls’ senior tennis team crowned South-East champions at the LTA Schools winter competition. Yet although Eastbourne is a sporty school with an enviable track record, it’s not just about winning. We gave it our sporting award for its efforts in fostering a culture of participation, regardless of talent or ability – and its seaside location (opening up opportunities such as sailing and windsurfing) does a great deal to help support that.

The clincher for us was the Mind Gym initiative, the brainchild of Eastbourne’s rugby performance coach, Jack Roberts. Using sport as a vehicle to normalise conversations about mental health, the programme’s drop-in sessions include a deep dive into how pupils are feeling, alongside a discussion of factors that could be affecting their physical performance. It’s all part of a wider effort to help pupils become holistically healthy, develop a skills toolbox and overcome issues affecting self-confidence or cope with stress and anxiety. And the skills aren’t just designed to help pupils with the sport. They’re also working wonders for coping with revision techniques and exams – meaning they are fully prepared for whatever life might throw at them, both on and off the sports pitch. It’s a brilliant initiative and the school is rightly proud of it.

Sport at Eastbourne College

Thinking Beyond the Curriculum: Dean Close School, Gloucestershire

With more and more schools eschewing traditional Saturday-morning academic lessons in favour of a more skills-based programme, our ears pricked up when we heard about Dean Close’s brand-new prep-school Saturday programme, Five Time, which, since launching last September, has been a huge hit. There are myriad benefits to the timetable shake-up, including giving families greater flexibility on weekends, but its main motivation was to equip pupils with the skills required to flourish in the future. At its heart is a roster of activities that are distinctly different to the regular routine of weekday lessons, anchored around Dean Close’s five Cs: compassion, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity. Which means pupils in Years 6 to 8 might now spend their Saturday mornings developing communication skills while mastering a new sport such as Quidditch or American football, learning the art of compassion while finessing their first aid skills or getting stuck into creative fun via animation classes or chocolate making.

And it’s not just the youngest pupils who benefit. Over in the senior school, all Year 9 pupils have one Skills Lab session per week, a bespoke course centred around academic and professional skills such as research and presenting, as well as taking a deep dive into disinformation, fake news and how to increase employability. It’s a brilliant way to help set the scene for pupils who might not quite yet be thinking about their career – and the perfect launchpad for future study and into the world of work.

Five Time at Dean Close Prep School

Innovation in nutrition or food: Ibstock Place School, London

It may be a London school, but Ibstock Place doesn’t let its location hold it back when it comes to championing farm-to-plate produce. With a blossoming kitchen garden on the edge of Richmond Park – where chef Josh helps pupils plant and forage for herbs and vegetables – and beehives set up to provide honey for salad dressings, sweet treats and more, food here is a real joy, and pupils learn about sustainability and provenance from the get-go. Restaurant-quality food in the school dining room is a given – the catering team prides itself on serving fish plucked from the harbour less than 48 hours ago.

Since winning our award last year, Ibstock Place has been working on a number of initiatives to make food fun, accessible and even more hands on. Last month, it held its first iftar feast, which was a brilliant way to champion diversity and celebrate cultural identity. The in-house catering team recently launched holiday cookery classes to teach pupils how to recreate popular school dishes at home, and the highly anticipated Great Ibstock Bake Off is gearing up for 2024 – last year, celebrity judges included Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell. Budding bakers got an experience of a lifetime too, with the (brilliant-sounding) Literary Baking Club heading off to Claridge’s to meet the hotel’s culinary director and snoop around the patisserie kitchen while learning about five-star service.

Ibstock Place School

Performing & Creative Arts: Tower House School, London, and Brambletye School, West Sussex

While all schools like to highlight the dazzling array of drama productions they’ve staged throughout the year, Tower House really does take them to a whole new level. Last year, it was news of the school’s extraordinary full-length sci-fi feature film, Proxima, that caught our attention – it came together after a year of writing, directing, filming and editing, and involved over 70 pupils and 17 locations up and down the UK, from muddy farmland to cramped basements. During production, pupils got to try their hand at storyboarding, cinematography and audio recording – and the icing on the cake was a premier at the Curzon cinema in Bloomsbury, with boys walking the red carpet before settling down to a viewing.

Equally worthy of an accolade is 2024’s production. Just before the end of last term, a bumper cast of 85 pupils took to the stage for an epic performance of Harry Potter, written and adapted by the school’s head of drama, Mr Geary. Following Harry from the moment he first discovered he was a wizard right through to the defeat of Voldemort, the play was split into two parts and performed twice over production week – which, for five magical days, and thanks to some serious special effects and wizardry – saw Tower House totally transformed into Hogwarts.

Tower House's recent production of Harry Potter

Drama has always been a thriving part of Brambletye’s enviable co-curricular programme, with the school’s large-scale productions giving the West End a run for its money. The fabulous theatre has its own orchestra pit, and the school’s terraced gardens provide a dramatic backdrop for plays, with audiences guided through the beautiful grounds during interactive productions (such as a recent performance of Wind in the Willows, while guests at an upcoming performance of Alice in Wonderland will be treated to tea on the terrace during the Mad Hatter’s tea party).

Under Brambletye’s new head of drama, Catie Johnson, the school’s creative flair is shining even brighter. Every single child from nursery to Year 8 is given the opportunity to take part in productions – either on stage or behind the scenes – and a recent Year 7 and 8 performance of My Fair Lady involved a rotating set, superb singing and dazzling costumes straight out of Broadway. Pupils continue to snaffle senior-school drama scholarships too (three this year), and 70 children bagged a distinction in their recent LAMDA exams. ‘Drama is well and truly for everyone, and with many more exciting projects on the horizon, I cannot wait to see what magical worlds the children create next,’ says Mrs Johnson.

Brambletye School

The Alice Rose Award: Saint Ronan’s, Kent, and Papplewick School, Berkshire

The Alice Rose Award is a particularly special one, in memory of Talk Education’s incredible co-founder Alice, who today remains a true driving force behind the business thanks to her brilliant vision, her positivity and her inspiration.

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 their charges to climb trees and get muddy knees, and where confident, nurtured, happy pupils enjoy their childhood. Our two winners – Saint Ronan’s School and Papplewick – were chosen by the whole TE team, as well as Alice’s husband, James, and their three young boys.‘

Alice Rose was deeply intuitive, intelligent and warm, and she understood what we fondly refer to here as “what really matters”,’ says Saint Ronan’s head William Trelawny-Vernon. ‘Happy childhood memories (mud, climbing, belly laughs) can, should and do go hand in hand with laying solid academic foundations. For Saint Ronan’s to be publicly recognised, with our good friends at Papplewick, for championing this philosophy, in Alice’s name, was deeply touching. We believe in the development of the whole child and, alongside the highest-ever number of scholarships awarded in 2023 (38 awards), our leavers left last year with confidence, awareness, curiosity, personal ambition and an embedded understanding of ‘what really matters’ in life. It has been magical seeing them develop and we relish hearing how much they are flourishing and contributing at their senior schools.’

Saint Ronan's

Tom Bunbury, head of Papplewick School, added: ‘All of us at Papplewick were deeply honoured to receive the Alice Rose Award last year. Alice was a great visionary in the world of education, and I am proud that we shared such similar views about the way forward in educating boys. Talk Education is clearly driven by her beliefs, which seemed to be, at their heart, about preserving childhood for as long as possible in an era when wider society so obviously makes children grow up all too quickly.’

Papplewick School

Our Talk Education Awards for Innovation in Education 2024 will be launching soon… Watch this space!