BEN Powell won the ‘new teacher of the year’ accolade at the South Wales Argus Schools and Education Awards 2020. Sue Bradley catches up with him to see how the past year has been.

Giving 100 per cent is key to Ben Powell’s work with children with special needs and the reason why he was named ‘new teacher of the year’ at the 2020 South Wales Argus Schools and Education Awards.

Ben had been at the Ysgol Bryn Derw (YBD) special school in Newport for a year when he secured the accolade, which was presented during a glittering ceremony in January, just weeks before Wales found itself in the grip of a pandemic.

Since then he’s had to use every ounce of his resourcefulness and experience to make the best of the situation for his pupils, who live with autism spectrum disorders and have severe learning difficulties.

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“The past year has been quite challenging, especially with the need for home learning,” says Ben, who hails from Pontypool. “Most of our pupils associate home with home, and school with school; their relationships with their parents are different from their relationships with us and we worked hard to make sure everybody was safe and coping.

“It’s great that everybody is back to school now; it’s as if they haven’t been away really with everybody slotting into the same routines as before.”

Ben’s desire to help young people with special needs dates back to his early years at university, at which he studied education. While working towards his degree he ran playgroups and after school clubs for the Rogerstone-based Sparkle Appeal, which helps individuals build on their social skills, provides opportunities and gives parents some degree of respite.

Life as a special needs teacher means no two days are never the same.

“I think that being in this sort of job means you have to give 100% constantly,” says Ben. “Our pupils keep us on our toes constantly and I think they’re almost making me a better teacher.

“One day I’ll do something with them that takes, and the next I need to adapt my teaching style to make it work.

“There’s a real element of challenge but it’s so rewarding as well: being with a class and seeing the progress they make, or having parents tell me that they never thought their child could do a certain task; these are things that make me feel especially proud.”

For Ben, making progress with a young person with special needs brings a number of benefits, both to individuals and their families.

“Having a child who has autism can be pretty challenging,” he explains. “We make good relationships with parents.”

Ben was teaching 13 children aged five to 11 when he won his award from the Argus. This year he’s been getting to know a new 13-strong group, in which the youngest is 11 and the oldest 17.

“I oversee two classrooms and work closely with a higher level teaching assistant and six other TAs; we work together as a strong team, at times it can be tricky and intense and we all draw from one another,” he says.

“At YBD we try and look long term wise at each pupil; assessing what skills they need to have when they leave us at 19; things like independent learning skills. We work with a range of external agencies to support our pupils.”

Ben’s School, Ysgol Bryn Derw, opened in 2017 with a mission to have ‘unconditional positive regard for all pupils’.

“It’s a happy school; a lovely place to work,” says Ben, who was nominated for the SWA ‘best new teacher award’ by his head Richard Drew and was also nominated for an award from the Welsh Government in 2020. “Everybody’s wellbeing is at the top of the priority list.”

l If you’ve been impressed by a newly-qualified teacher who is making a difference to pupils, why not nominate them for awards.

This accolade recognises the fresh, enthusiastic and passionate approach that a new teacher brings to their classroom and profession. Judges are looking for an individual who embraces technology and innovates in their approach to teaching and learning. Qualified teachers who have been working up to three years, with a significant proportion of their week dedicated to classroom teaching, are eligible to enter.

Making nominations for the South Wales Argus Schools & Education Awards couldn’t be easier: visit and fill out the online form.

Those unable to access a computer can send their nomination with supporting information and their name, address and a contact number, to the South Wales Argus at: First Floor, Chartist Tower, Upper Dock Street, Newport. NP20 1DW.

Don’t delay, the closing date is Monday September 20.

The categories are:

  • School of the Year - The overall winner on the evening.
  • Above and Beyond Award – sponsored by Caerphilly County Borough Council - Recognition of a person or group who have shown commitment to ‘going that extra mile
  • Digital Innovation Award – sponsored by Monmouthshire Building Society - Excellence in the use of digital technology demonstrated by a positive impact on educational outcomes through use inside or outside the classroom.
  • Teaching Assistant of the Year
  • New Teacher of the Year - Recognising the fresh, enthusiastic and passionate approach a new teacher brings to their classroom and the ability to embrace technology and innovate. Open to qualified teachers working in classrooms for up to three years.
  • Further Education Lecturer of the Year
  • Early Years Education Award – sponsored by University of South Wales - For innovative and successful childminders, nurseries, pre-schools or other organisations that really stand out.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – sponsored by Western Power Distribution - A member of the school community who has shown a commitment to the sector over many years. This could be a leader, teacher or member of support staff.
  • Head Teacher of the Year, sponsored by Portal
  • Secondary Teacher of the Year – sponsored by University of South Wales
  • Best Welsh Language Initiative - sponsored by Coleg Gwent - A school or initiative that has provided activities or learning for children and young people to increase their awareness of the value of the Welsh language in the classroom.
  • Welsh Medium Teacher of the Year
  • Primary School of the Year
  • Secondary School of the Year, sponsored by Portal