A north Norfolk teaching assistant credited with having “literally saved lives” has been named the best in the country at the national teaching awards.

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David Bonnington has worked at Aylsham High School for the past six years after a career change brought on by redundancy.

Last night he was named Teaching Assistant of the Year at the prestigious UK Pearson Teaching Awards in London, having already won the regional accolade earlier this year.

The award was presented by Norwich-born television presenter Jake Humphrey, whose parents are both former teachers.

Judges said Mr Bonnington had taken to the job “like a duck to water” and had prevented a number of young people from dropping out of school, being excluded, and failing to achieve.

They added: “Aylsham has seen the value in him and had the wisdom to let him loose. He has literally saved lives.”

Mr Bonnington, who is in his 50s and originally from Sheffield, was nominated by North Walsham-based charity The Benjamin Foundation which was struck by his willingness to go the extra mile for the young people he worked with.

Comments from his students included “nothing is too much trouble and he never breaks a promise to do something” while colleagues said “every school should have a Mr Bonnington”.

One mother told judges her son, who had previously been branded “unmanageable” after being excluded from every school he had attended, had been transformed by the teaching assistant.

The student, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is now making the most of his talents and is succeeding academically.

One of Mr Bonnington’s most successful initiatives at Aylsham High has been the creation of his much-praised inclusion area.

The Link Room is described as a vibrant learning space where students feel secure. It is a half-way house, helping to re-introduce students back to lessons, with an “eternally positive” atmosphere thanks to displays and messages on the walls.

Aylsham High headteacher Duncan Spalding said: “David has created an amazing learning space where some of our most vulnerable learners feel at home and begin to thrive in school. There are children whose lives have been transformed in terms of their behaviour and achievement.

“His calm way of working and patient approach reaps huge rewards.”

And his support also goes beyond the classroom. Mr Bonnington throws himself into the life of the school, building sets for drama and music productions and encouraging his students to help out at the end of the school day.

Last night’s Pearson Teaching Award, which took place at the Victoria Palace Theatre, recognised inspirational people and teams working at the country’s schools and colleges.

Eight awards were handed out with three winners in the East of England. Outstanding New Teacher of the Year went to Liz Bailey, of Clacton County High School in Essex, while Oxley Park Academy, in Milton Keynes, was named Outstanding School Team.

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