Mrs Ania Hildrey, headteacher of Abbot’s Lea School in Woolton, has been shortlisted for the National Autistic Society's prestigious Autism Professionals Awards, in the Achievement by an Individual Education Professional category.
The annual awards recognise people, services and schools across the UK who are making a difference to autistic people and their families. The winners will be announced at a special ceremony on 27 February 2020 at Birmingham Town Hall, following the first day of the National Autistic Society’s Professionals Conference.
Mrs Hildrey was shortlisted by an independent panel of Autism specialists, who were looking for high standards of innovation, creativity, impact and sustainability. By celebrating their achievements, the National Autistic Society hopes to increase public understanding of Autism and inspire other people and organisations to make a difference too. There are thirteen awards for individuals and organisations, covering education, health, social care, employment, and volunteering.
Mrs Hildrey was born in Lublin, Poland. She graduated from the University of Marie Curie-Sklodowska, earning Honour’s Degree in Special Education and moved to Denmark to learn about alternative teaching approaches at Det Nødvendige Seminarium. She later completed her postgraduate research studies based on pedagogical practice in special schools in Denmark and as a result, gained a Master’s Degree from Warsaw Academy of Special Education in 1998.
Her interest in special education took her to the UK in 1999, where she has settled both personally and professionally, teaching and lecturing in a range of schools, FE Colleges and at the University of Glasgow. She took up her first senior leadership position in 2003 and progressed to leading special schools as a Headteacher since.
In 2016, she joined Abbot’s Lea School as its current headteacher - one of the largest and most successful special schools in the country, which caters for over 250 students, age 3-19, with Autism and associated learning support needs.
Her vision is to create an International Centre of Excellence in Autism Education, Research and Professional Development and to make Abbot’s Lea the best specialist school in the world!
She is passionate about research-led practice and driven to improve the quality of lives of those with complex needs. In particular, her work focuses on improvement of the transition from childhood to adulthood, independent living, personal autonomy and empowerment, freedom of choice, self-determination, economic wellbeing, employability and family planning for people with learning difficulties.
There are around 700,000 known autistic adults and children in the UK. Many more autistic people, and girls and women in particular, are undiagnosed and often misunderstood.
Many people living with Autism need extra time to process information, like questions or instructions, feel intense anxiety in social or unexpected situations and may find sensory stimuli painful or distressing.
Every autistic person is different and will have their own strengths and challenges. Some autistic people might need 24-hour care; others may need clearer communication or a little longer to do things at school or work. Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely socially isolated.
Mrs Hildrey said: “I'm truly delighted and humbled to be a finalist in the Achievement by an Individual Education Professional category at the National Autistic Society’s Autism Professionals Awards – it came as a total surprise and I was very moved by the announcement.
“It is my absolute goal – personal and professional - to help the lives of those with Autism and associated communication, interaction, social imagination, sensory and learning differences.
“At Abbot’s Lea, we are proud to deliver the highest quality of specialist holistic education for students, ensuring they are given the same opportunities students in mainstream education receive, with particular focus on learning key life skills, receiving career guidance and work experience opportunities that will set them up for life.
“As ever, whilst I thank whomever has felt it was right to nominate me, I am merely a representative of the whole school community and as such, I wish to thank, in turn, the entire team of exceptional professionals with whom I am privileged to work.”
Carol Povey, Director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said: “Our awards celebrate exceptional people, schools and services making a huge difference to autistic children and adults, and their families.
“All the finalists should be commended for impressing the judges and standing out among so many excellent nominations.
“We want to celebrate their achievements and share their stories, so we can promote innovative autism practice and inspire other people and organisations to help create a society that works for autistic people."
Find out more about autism, the Autism Professionals Awards and the Professionals Conference by visiting: autism.org.uk/professionals