| 17.5°C Belfast

Teachers are a real class act for Spirit of NI Awards

Quartet of leading lights from education sector hailed by colleagues for selfless devotion to job


HEART OF CORN: Cathy and husband David with sons Charlie and Tom

HEART OF CORN: Cathy and husband David with sons Charlie and Tom

HEART OF CORN: Cathy and husband David with sons Charlie and Tom

Four teachers whose dedication to others has made a difference not just in the classroom but in the community have reached the final of our Spirit of Education Award category in this year’s Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Ulster Bank.

Tyrone primary school teacher Cathy Burns was nominated for the category, sponsored by Harbinson Mulholland, by a colleague who said of her: “The world would just be a better place if it had more people like her”.

Described as someone who “lights up a room”, Cathy not only works tirelessly for the children of St Dympna’s Primary in Dromore but also motivates her colleagues and volunteers in a host of local community groups.

It came as no surprise to those who know her that during the pandemic she devoted her time to others, making PPE for frontline workers and her local community.

She managed to set up a team of 24 volunteers who sewed night and day to meet demand — producing more than 3,000 masks in nine weeks.

Her nomination explains: “Although Cathy is ALWAYS helping others, it was during the pandemic that she really became an unsung hero.

“When the news was consumed by PPE shortages locally and all over the world, Cathy watched a YouTube tutorial and the mask making began.

“During lockdown she also continued to work in school to support the children of key workers.”

Cathy’s dedication to her community and the humble way she goes about helping people and cheering them up have made her a hero in the eyes of those who know her.

As one friend said: “To sum up Cathy… her positivity is just infectious and she is a true gift to the people in her life. Her kindness and generosity inspires others to be better people. “

The vice principal of her school described her as “the one person who no matter what the circumstances always puts others in front of herself”.

A grateful mum nominated Antrim primary school teacher Rachel Hand in recognition of “the warmth and kindness” with which she engages her young pupils.


Spirit of Education finalist Rachel Hand

Spirit of Education finalist Rachel Hand

Spirit of Education finalist Rachel Hand

Miss Hand teaches primary one and two pupils in Round Tower Integrated Primary school.

A parent, whose son was taught by her last year and whose daughter is now in her class, said: “The first five years of a child’s life greatly shapes their mental health and resilience, and the environment which Miss Hand creates for the children in her class really facilities this development beautifully. Over the past year we have witnessed first-hand how she engages the children with great warmth, and kindness.

“She treats each child as an individual, and takes time each day to engage and encourage them.

“Miss Hand provides resources for mindfulness, exercise, relaxation and reflection on a weekly basis and our children responded so well to these. “

During the pandemic Miss Hand went above and beyond to ensure her pupils didn’t miss out on their education, using many different resources, platforms and mediums to engage, encourage and help the children in her class continue to learn.

These included interactive sessions where the children got to have a ‘live’ class with her and see their friends, home learning packs, video lessons, nature activities and much more.

An inspirational teacher in Orangefield Girls School and later in Orangefield High School, Rosemary Rainey OBE is described as “a mentor, an encourager, a driving force and an educational leader”. Despite recurring ill-health during her 27 years of teaching, Rosemary made a significant impact on the lives of others “with courage, faith and determination”.

She formed bonds and relationships with pupils and staff that have continued to the present day.

Now retired, she has remained just as dedicated and busy, serving on a number of public bodies and educational boards.

As chairperson of Grosvenor Grammar School board of governors she was in almost daily contact with the principal regarding the delivery of teaching and learning during the pandemic.

She is described as both a team leader and a team worker, who is not afraid to “get her hands dirty”.

Rosemary was appointed chairperson of the Transferor Representatives’ Council in 2018, which represents the interests of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church and Methodist Church in all matters to do with education.





A recognised public speaker, author, and academically and intellectually gifted, Rosemary is highly esteemed for her knowledge of and experience in the field of education. She is frequently consulted for advice and reliable guidance.

Many former pupils acknowledge that she encouraged them to continue with studies later in life, thus enabling them to develop their full potential and gain successful careers.

Her high standards of professionalism and commitment have underpinned all her work over the years.

She has been, and still is, generous with devoting time and talents to everything with which she is involved to the benefit of all concerned.

Her life continues to be one of service to the community and to the present age, always making a difference.

Rosemary was awarded the OBE in the 2011 New Year Honours List for services to education. In 2010 she was made an honorary life member of Women’s Forum Northern Ireland and in 2018 was the first recipient of their special recognition award. A former president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (NI Branch) 1989-1999, she was presented with their certificate of honour in 2019.

The accolades don’t stop there as last year she emerged as the winner of the Iris Colvin lifetime achievement award. In her nomination, she was summed up as someone who “stands out and shines as an inspirational, resilient person who puts others before herself and always serves the community in Northern Ireland, often at great personal cost.”

Another of our top educators, drama teacher Frances Nelson, has been shortlisted for her dedication to a very special drama group in Belfast.

Babosh drama group, who meet in Belvoir Rehearsal Studio, is made up of adults with learning disabilities.





On top of her full-time teaching position at St Louise’s Grammar School in Belfast, Frances voluntarily teachers two classes at Babosh every week.

Throughout the pandemic she has continued to teach the group using Zoom, not only keeping them together but continuing to develop their acting skills and put on performances.

By getting families involved to help record videos at home which she then edited, Frances was able to stage a special performance night on Zoom.

One admirer says: “The whole experience has been invaluable in providing a real focus for the members of Babosh and their families throughout the pandemic. The performances can all be viewed on YouTube under the name of Babosh Drama Group and the development of the actors is very evident in these.

“The amount of work and dedication, on the part of Frances, deserves to be publicly recognised.”

Top Videos