The Lockdown Learning Awards 2020

By Chris Jarosh

We always host the annual Renaissance Awards on the last Friday in November. Last year was our fourth year and we had an absolute blast with a big party in our office complete with banners, balloons and canapes. It was great, and we knew it would be even bigger and better in 2020.

But then… well, 2020. Amidst a global pandemic and strict rules on social gatherings, we knew we couldn’t host the awards how we’d planned. So we changed it up, renamed them the Lockdown Learning Awards, and started planning an online awards ceremony instead!

The birth of the Lockdown Learning Awards

2020 has been completely unpredictable and educators have gone above and beyond their call of duty to make sure their students could keep learning under lockdown rules. We knew the diverse collection of stories we’d seen in the news and on social media was just the tip of the iceberg – so instead of asking you to enter specific award categories, we asked you to just tell us your stories in either 500 words or a 2-minute video.

And you delivered! We ended up with over 80 nominations from schools all over the UK and Ireland – and not just our customers either! We were so happy to see lots of entries from schools we’ve never even spoken to before. Everyone wanted to share what they and their incredible colleagues had done!

Choosing the winners

Two judges, Liezel Wilkinson and Samantha Ashman, combed through the entries with some help from Lauren Shapiro too. Hours were spent in Zoom meetings as they discussed each one! And as always, before we passed on all the entries to our judges, we took the time to anonymise all of them. So even after all the deliberation, the judges actually had no idea who they’d picked as the winners!

Pictures of the Lockdown Learning Awards Judges

Some very difficult decision making later, 11 schools were selected as their favourites. Then we came up with names of individual awards for them to win.

Planning the celebration

We knew that it would be tough to create the same party atmosphere in an online awards ceremony as we had in our previous in-person celebrations, but we were determined to give it our best shot.

Two of our loudest and most entertaining colleagues, Frances Kingston and Margaret Allen, were given the job of hosting the ceremony. Of course, we had to make sure the aesthetics were up to scratch when they appeared on video, so we sent green screens to their houses so we could choose what we wanted them to have as a background! We also roped in several other colleagues to help out on the day doing things like controlling the slideshow and being on standby in case we ran into any technical hitches. Our Sales Director John Moore was all set to deliver the introduction to open the ceremony. (And yes, we sent him a green screen as well!)

A picture of the two hosts of the Lockdown Learning Awards, Frances and Margaret

On the day

As we approached 12pm on Friday 27th November, everything, and everyone, was ready. (Margaret even had a bottle of alcohol-free Prosecco on hand!) Everyone who had entered the awards had been invited, as well as anyone else who wanted to join in – one perk of an online ceremony is that you don’t have a capacity limit! We’d told all our nominees that if they won, we’d give them the chance to turn on their cameras and say a few words.

Of course, there were bound to be some technical hitches, but overall everything went even better than we could have hoped and the ceremony was a resounding success! We had some lovely speeches from our winners, and even found ourselves projected to a whole assembly of children gathered at one school who were ecstatic when they found out they were winners!

Every winner received £300 worth of books from our generous friends at Laburnum House. Plus, we had £100 vouchers for a further 12 schools who were given a special mention, and a £10 voucher for every nomination too!

Watch a video featuring snapshots from some of our nominations below.


And the winner is…

The Social Butterfly Award

Our judges chose two winners for this award: a primary school winner and a secondary school winner!

Secondary school winner: the Beckfoot LRC Team at Beckfoot School

Judges were impressed by how well this team kept in contact with students and their parents while schools were closed and how quickly the adapted everything so everyone could keep reading from home! Beckfoot Library are also very active on Twitter which is brilliant to see.

Primary school winner: Dawn Molloy at Prescot Primary School

Prescot Primary are also very active on social media and we love seeing all their updates! Our judges were won over by how Dawn, the school librarian, went from a self-proclaimed technophobe to setting up Google Classrooms for Years 3-6 with book recommendations, word count updates and motivation to get everyone reading. In a video submitted with their nomination, a student says “Mrs Molloy is the reason most of us love reading!”

The Save the Minibeast Award

Awarded to: Pirton Hill Primary School

What a fantastic reading challenge this school came up with! Every student had their own bug (made from a pom-pom!) which they had to save by completing their home learning tasks. And if they didn’t, the evil Mr Booth locked the bugs up into a secret lair where they awaited their fate! Other children suggested sticky ends for the unlucky bugs including baking them into a cake, running them over, and even putting them in the blender! This incredible creative idea meant that student engagement went from 10% to over 95%!

The Keep Thriving Award

Awarded to: Oasis Academy Wintringham

Our judges were impressed by how well this school communicated with last year’s Year 6s to ensure they felt welcomed and not anxious to go into Year 7. The school also hosted a Virtual Sports Day, sang and wrote poems to the NHS and carers, and successfully managed to transform their library to be a COVID-secure, but still welcoming and cosy, place to be!

The Wrapped Up in Reading Award

Awarded to: the Staff Team at Tor Bridge Primary School

It’s clear that this school has reading at its heart! Our judges were impressed by all their different reading challenges and ideas, from Phonics lessons delivered to KS1 students by video, to teachers reading class novels aloud on video, sometimes even in fancy dress! We also loved the pictures they sent us of the installation of their book vending machine!

The Open All Hours Award

Awarded to: Oxford Spires Academy

Rose and Rebecca went out of their way to put together, package up and deliver food bags to students who needed it – and managed despite empty supermarket shelves at the start of the lockdown. They also visited and made phone calls to families. As well as this, thanks to the Vice-Principal Maurice Dixon, no child or member of staff was left behind. He single-handedly made sure everyone was ready for online learning with his self-recorded training videos: 100s for staff and 1000s for students! The nomination said, “We would be in a different place if it hadn’t been for Maurice.”

The Child’s Best Friend Award

Awarded to: Marine Primary Academy

Our judges loved seeing how the school involved their school Watson with their ‘Paws to Read’ intervention in school, where he’d listen to children read to him. When schools were closed, the Senior Leaders (and Watson!) worked throughout lockdown and never gave up on their mission to ensure that the children still loved reading. Each week the children who had moved to the next Accelerated Reader level had the certificates posted to them from Watson, who wrote each child a note to congratulate them on their reading at home.

The Far Reaching Award

Awarded to: Victoria Wilkinson at Sandgate Primary School

Victoria was nominated by her colleague Mr James who told us about her immense hard work for her students during lockdown, even when she was moved to different classes, and despite her having her own children at home! But what set her apart for our judges her work all the way through the summer holidays to offer live interactive online lessons, planning out the whole KS1 maths curriculum which was delivered online to children across the UK through the Invicta Summer Academy.

The Umbrella Award

Awarded to: Carmel Perry at St Margaret Mary’s Catholic Junior School

Our judges were really moved by this nomination, which described how Mrs Perry had carried out doorstep visits during lockdown, taking food parcels whilst providing pastoral support where it was needed most. Along with another member of staff, she also co-wrote a trauma-informed scheme called ‘Sunshine after the Rain’ to assist teachers to support children’s return to school. It was shared across all schools in the Liverpool Archdiocese even further afield! Finally, Mrs Perry and her daughter delivered free meals to 30 families when half-term food vouchers weren’t provided, ensuring that these families didn’t go hungry.

The Pot of Gold Award

Awarded to: Jacqui McIntyre, Sam Phillips and the whole Accelerated Reader Team at Bo’ness Academy

This team were packed full of brilliant ideas! They set up a Book Treasure Trail around the community, where books were securely wrapped and hidden around town with entertaining rhyming clues to guide pupils to them. They also started a scheme to give books as rewards to pupils throughout lockdown – they purchased them from a local bookshop and hand-delivered them to pupils who had excelled or been particularly engaged during the period of online learning. They even had a virtual author visit from Tom Palmer!

The Going the Extra Mile Award

Awarded to: St Mark’s Academy

We had a lot of nominations for this school! Our judges read story after story of different members of staff and their hard work while schools were closed. But what stood out was the St Mark’s minibus which drove around to ensure that the most vulnerable students had some level of face to face contact, to promote wellbeing and to also minimise the impact of the pandemic on families’ mental health. On days where the minibus was not available, the team walked to students’ houses, building up over 30000 steps in a day!  The school’s values of values of love, trust and hope were really brought to life.

The Terry Paul Award

In memory of Terry Paul, the late co-founder of Renaissance who was truly passionate about accelerating learning for all, we give the Terry Paul Award each year to an individual. Whether a teacher, educator, or someone influential in the education world, we select someone who embodies Terry’s ambition to help all children achieve their potential.

Awarded to: Richard Hubbard, a Renaissance colleague for 13 years

Richard worked on product localisations, research projects and key customer relations which meant he could be found in many departments and functions in the company. Sadly, and unexpectedly, we lost Richard in September this year, but his knowledge, passion and kindness will always be remembered.

In the words of one of our colleagues, Richard was “a true gentleman and a huge asset to Renaissance.”

And a special mention to…

  • Corby Primary Academy
  • Myddelton College Preparatory School
  • Green Oaks Primary Academy
  • Moira Primary School
  • North Lancing Primary School
  • Rothley CofE Academy
  • St Mary’s Primary School Maghera
  • Crispin School
  • Glyn School
  • Highfields School
  • Lincoln Castle Academy
  • The Marches School

A big thank you to: Laburnum House Educational for sponsoring our event and the fantastic prizes; our judges who read all the nominations and had to choose the best of the best; everyone who took the time to put their nomination together; every guest who spent their Friday lunchtime at our awards ceremony on Zoom; and finally, all of the schools up and down the UK and Ireland who are accelerating learning for all their students. Where would we  be without you?

You can watch a recording of the awards ceremony here!

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