Deaf academy teachers and students shed tears of joy after top awards

Teachers with gold awards

Matt Jenkins and Joanna Fison with their gold awards. - Credit: Ike Green-Roberts

The pioneering work of the Deaf Academy has been recognised with a prestigious national award.

The academy provides education, training, care, accommodation, leisure opportunities, welfare and other support services to deaf people from across the West Country, including Devon.

Two members of staff have won the esteemed Pearson golden national teaching award category Lockdown Hero - Learner and Community Support which was a special award created for 2021.

The award was for the innovative work in setting up online teaching and support during the height of the pandemic for the Academy students. And the announcement of the awards was made live on BBC’s The One Show.
Teachers Matt Jenkins and Joanna Fison were presented with the gold awards by former Casualty actress Gabriella Leon, who is Deaf herself. She surprised the pair by turning up at the Academy after pretending she was in a studio in London. The awards were then presented to the stunned teachers in front of students and colleagues at the Academy.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are lucky enough to have some of the best teachers in the world and I would like to thank every single one of our education staff for their hard work supporting children and young people, especially during the pandemic.”
During the national lockdown there was an increase in anxiety levels amongst the Deaf community due to the lack of access to key coronavirus information at government briefings. The Deaf Academy team created an Online Academy, Spring Camp and developed a platform “Ask Deaf Teachers” to ensure information about the pandemic was clear and easily accessible for Deaf young people in particular those with additional needs.
Joanna said: To win a national award like this, felt absolutely amazing. Matt and I were very emotional - there were tears and laughter, it didn’t feel real at all. We’re so glad we got to share that moment with all our colleagues, and of course our amazing students. I look back at our time in lockdown with mixed feelings. To quote Dickens (badly!) …it was the best of times, it was the worst of times! None of the team had ever worked so hard, but all the struggles and challenges were undoubtedly worth it in the end. However, the Online Academy and ‘Ask a Deaf Teacher’ were just a natural progression of the magic that happens every day here at the Deaf Academy.
“If you would have told me 10 years ago when I first started losing my hearing that I would go on to win a national teaching award, I would have never believed it. I have learned very quickly that #DeafCan.”
Matt, who is the Deaf Academy’s lead BSL teacher, set up a YouTube channel during lockdown which clearly outlined the important information children needed to know to ensure they knew what coronavirus was and how to keep safe. Called ’Ask a Deaf Teachers’, it was a resource not only for Deaf Academy students, but was used by hundreds of Deaf children around the UK. 
He said: “During the announcement I couldn’t quite believe it. It didn’t register at first. I was lip-reading Gabriella and she signed ‘gold’. I thought I had misunderstood her or made a processing error. In my mind I thought we were talking about the silver award, it wasn’t until the students handed me the gold award that it finally sank in.  I couldn’t stop crying. Everyone was crying, students and staff. It was a very special moment for us. These were the students who had experienced the online academy and the lockdown first-hand, so it was great for us as an Academy and as our own Deaf community to all be there together to experience winning the national teaching award.”.
The Academy opened the doors to its new state-of-the-art premises in Exmouth in September last year. Since then, it has won a total of six different national and regional awards and has been shortlisted for a further four.