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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2021: University of Cambridge Primary School teaching assistant Aimee Durning awarded MBE

A teaching assistant from Cambridge has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to children with special educational needs and disabilities through the Covid crisis as well as services to teaching assistants.

Aimee Durning, 47, from Cambridge, is TA at University of Cambridge Primary School.

Aimee set up a regional network for TAs in the East of England to share best practices and develop their skills, particularly in helping vulnerable children, and has written a series of books on the subject.

She plans to use the MBE as a platform to extend the teaching assistants' network to a national level, to help support their work in hundreds more schools.

Aimee Durning, teaching assistant at the University of Cambridge Primary School, has received an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Houours list for services to education.
Aimee Durning, teaching assistant at the University of Cambridge Primary School, has received an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Houours list for services to education.

She said: “I felt totally and utterly shocked when I heard I was being awarded the MBE. I couldn't believe it. To receive an MBE like Marcus Rashford is mind blowing. I'm honoured to receive it and recognition for the work I have done here at the school. Without the support of the school I would never have been nominated or be able to do the work I have done.

“Really the headteacher, James Biddulph, is a true believer in teaching assistants as educators and I have been empowered by him and recently promoted to director of inclusion and community and I sit on the senior leadership team which is really unusual for a TA.

“A couple of years ago I received the Times Educational Supplement classroom assistant of the year award and I think this MBE builds on that. At the school we have followed a lot of research about the best use of TAs at school and I have run professional development sessions for teaching assistants in the local area. After school I ran teaching assistant twilight professional sessions involving them in speech and language development for the children.

“During the pandemic we also kept a close check on our vulnerable children at the school making sure they had books and food when they needed it because a lot of our vulnerable families who were OK before the pandemic hit lost their incomes overnight. So I organised food hampers at Christmas.

The University of Cambridge Primary School. Picture: Keith Heppell
The University of Cambridge Primary School. Picture: Keith Heppell

"Also, as a teaching assistant I have been working with a professor from the open university on research to get children to read for pleasure.”

Prior to the pandemic, she set up a “Secret Book Club”, giving up her own time to support vulnerable children through story writing and telling.

She used the power of stories and reading to help young people and their families cope during Covid, calling in person (in a Covid secure manner) to make sure they had teaching resources, including – of course – books.

The club, now happily meeting again at school, is so named because it gathers at a different location every week, often with a mystery choice of book.

In addition, Aimee prides herself on working with the children to create stunning classroom displays, as well as running the school hockey club.

Her citation is also for services to teaching assistants, an often overlooked but critical part of any school.

Aimee was nominated by Dr James Biddulph, headteacher at the University of Cambridge Primary School, who said: “In all my 20 years of serving as a teacher and school leader I have never worked with someone with the ambitions, creativity and willingness to do everything possible to give all children the very best start in life. It is through her self-less and extremely hardworking attitude that her ambition arises - not an ambition for herself but for all children.”

The school has recognised her talent by appointing Aimee its first director of inclusion and community, with a remit to continue advocating for the powerful impact teaching assistants can make in supporting children and their families.

It is considered a groundbreaking role, and the first time a teaching assistant has joined the senior leadership team at a primary school.

Aimee, who was named teaching assistant of the year in 2019, believes empowering TAs can make a huge difference to children everywhere:

“The UK is such an innovative country. We have the opportunity to be brave trail blazers to show that there is a new way, a better way to educate all. If we rethink how we use teachers and teaching assistants in schools we will close the gaps – look to the research and not necessarily having to lengthen the school day or employ strangers, like tutors, to educate our children in our schools. Let’s instead develop the valuable resources we already have, our teaching assistants, who have the relationship making skills to support children to flourish. The time is now.

“Throughout the whole coronavirus narrative it was always about teachers and school leaders but teaching assistants were never mentioned. However, without teaching assistants our most vulnerable children in the country would not have been in school. Our aim is to raise the profile of the profession and to professionalise it. We are in talks with the Institute of Continuing Education about teaching assistant apprenticeships where they have access to the best research so they can get the best from the children.”

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