The Holmewood School, an autism specialist school near Finchley, has won two prestigious awards at the TES Independent School Awards 2019

Working in an autism specialist school like Holmewood, where all pupils are on the spectrum and more than half have mental health needs, can often be challenging. But the senior leadership team’s commitment to putting student and staff welfare first was what set it apart for judges at the Tes Independent Schools Awards 2019 and resulted in them being named ‘Senior Leadership Team of the Year’.

The team’s holistic and open-minded approach shapes the school: as Ofsted noted at a 2018 inspection, “staff share leaders’ vision to ‘think differently’ about pupils on the autistic spectrum”.

Lead judge John Claughton said: “Holmewood richly deserved to win not only through the quality of their submission but also because it is important to show that there are outstanding specialist schools in the independent sector for students with special educational needs. That diversity of provision is too often hidden.”

Tes School

They were also worthy winners of the Special Needs Initiative of the Year award in recognition of their ‘creative and practical cooking initiative’, The Holmewood School Occupational Therapy cafe.

The Occupational Therapy Café started life as staff searched for ways to help a student who was at risk of exclusion because of his poor behaviour. After several months they discovered his interest in cooking and developed a programme that swiftly improved his conduct. Keen to capitalise on his success, staff expanded the project for other pupils, creating a café team of five students, including a baker, senior chef and several trainees, supported by occupational therapists.

Café members have not only improved their motor skills through cooking but also boosted their confidence navigating social situations such as dealing with customers. Some students have enjoyed the project so much they now want to pursue in a career in the culinary field.

Tes School

Lead judge Margaret Mulholland said: “This is a wonderful example of a social enterprise initiative set up by the Occupational Therapy team to explicitly strengthen motor skills development whilst supporting steps toward employability. The pride of the young people, parents and other stakeholders shone through in this application.”

Head Teacher of The Holmewood School Lisa Camilleri praised her staff. She said: “I am delighted and so proud of our wonderful team. To take away two awards was a big surprise and is testament to all the work we’ve done together over the last three years.”

For more coverage of the awards, profiles of the winners and photographs from the evening, please visit or pick up a copy of Tes magazine, available in newsagents from 8 February.