Chris Upton is honoured with a Silver Award in the Unsung Hero category, given to those who have shown outstanding commitment to changing the lives of the children they work with every day, and he will be heading to London next week to receive it.
In Chris’ case, he is being recognised for undertaking the difficult task of leading his school and community through the tragic death of one of his pupil’s, Saffie-Rose Roussos, who perished following the Manchester Arena terror attack in 2017.
On receiving the award, Chris said: “I was a little bit overwhelmed, it’s obviously quite a prestigious award, but also, for what it's for, it’s a team award, it's not an individual thing. I lead a fantastic team, so I think it's really positive for our school and for our community.
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"We’ve had some dark times in Tarleton and Hesketh Bank, and everybody's come together. People are more aware now of what lengths the school has had to go to behind the scenes over the last five years.”
Chris delivered the news of Saffie’s death eleven times on that day to different classes, and ensured that all children had the appropriate support in place to help them process the challenging news.
In the months that followed, Chris and the Tarleton Community team established a support infrastructure for the children, the staff and the local community, which sought to allow people to grieve and to maintain their school learning journey.
This included formal support, from individual and group counselling, and celebrations of international school connections to help the children (re)connect with the wider world when they were fearful of it.
His efforts are described by colleagues as a ‘sustained, values-led intervention in supporting an entire community to cope, to commune and to grow out of tragedy’.
Chris said: “We recognised it was an unprecedented situation for a UK based primary school to face, and there were some short comings in terms of the support that we had. So we had to really go out alone and find the support in a different way. From my personal perspective, it’s finding that support but also challenging things moving forward. Through work with the Home Office and Department of Education, and the counterterrorism team, we're able to share our learning and ensure that there's better provisions in place should school face similar problems again.”
Outside of the Tarleton community, Chris’ team created a toolkit for schools to help with the initial aftermath of a terrorist attack, whilst Chris recently released a book about the school’s experience, called 'Searching for the Sparkle: A School's Journey of Recovery'.
All the proceeds from the book's sales also go towards a charity set up by Chris called the Sparkle Bean Trust, which supported their first school this year, providing a cash donation and learning support to a North West primary school that suddenly lost a child.
Chris added: “It's been five years of hard work for my school and my team, but we're just very aware that, should this happen again, we don't want people to have the same hurdles that we've had, and we can support others with what we've done, and I think the award recognises that.”
As a Silver Award winner, Chris has now been shortlisted to win one of just 16 Gold Awards in November.
These once in a lifetime achievements will be broadcast on the BBC’s The One Show as part of a week-long celebration of teaching, which sees famous faces honour award winners every night in the run up to the ceremony.
The Pearson National Teaching Awards is an annual celebration of excellence in education, founded in 1998 by Lord Puttnam to recognise the life-changing impact an inspirational teacher can have on the lives of the young people they work with, and this year marks its 23rd anniversary.