NDA23 Winner Interview: Nicola Carey-Shine

1st February 2024

Positive Role Model Award: Disability


Recipient of the BBC Make a Difference Award 2022, Nicola Carey-Shine is founder of ‘The Learn to Shine school CIC’, a multi-award winning Education consultancy, clinic and Special Educational Needs Centre. Nicola left her position as Deputy Headteacher in a mainstream secondary school to forge joined-up, holistic support for those with SEN, when her first-born was 12 weeks old. Living with severe ADHD and in a completely neurodiverse household, Nicola knows first-hand the importance of having someone fighting your corner to access fair education. She has worked relentlessly to create a forest school and clinic for neurodiverse children and adults to learn, thrive and reach their full potential. During the pandemic, she achieved a MSc Psychology and trained to become an ASC/ADHD clinical specialist so that she could offer diagnosis, support and advocacy. Her motto is 'No child left behind'.


Nicola Carey-Shine


We spoke with Nicola Carey-Shine after they won the Positive Role Model Award: Disability at The National Diversity Awards 2023. Here’s what they had to say:


How did it feel when you received the email to advise that you had been nominated for a National Diversity Award?


I remember I had just finished a lesson with my students when the email pinged up. It was brilliant timing! There was lots of screaming and crying (happy tears of course!), it was a really lovely, emotional moment. Knowing that my nomination came from a family I have supported and been on a journey with, made it really special.


After the excitement of the shortlist announcement and after patiently waiting for the final result, how did you feel when it was announced that you were the official winner of the Positive Role Model Award: Disability?


INCREDIBLE and SURREAL! Walking on to that stage, knowing all my Learn to Shine School family and children were watching, cheering me on was immense (and I had made sure I wore my superhero caped shoes for them just in case!) I don’t think the scale of it all hit me until we were driving back to Kent and I had a big ‘did that just happen?!’ moment. It is an incredibly humbling feeling to be in a room with so many selfless, determined individuals, so to be called up as a winner was just mind blowing. All of the children I work with have been delighted with holding the trophy and love parading around with it above their heads! As a family, we have had an extremely tough year, seeing my mum decline to the end stages of dementia. My parents have always been my number one champions and advocates growing up, so to give my dad such joy and pride seeing me on tv and being crowned the winner, was just immense.


You are officially a National Diversity Award Winner! Moving forward, how will you utilise this to further leverage your cause?


As a CIC I have to fund everything myself and operate with volunteers or donations. I work six days a week with autistic and / or ADHD children and adults where genuine life changes are witnessed; non-verbal children starting to speak and express their feelings, kids restarting their education, assessments and advocacy, the list is endless, BUT we need to grow, urgently! Winning such an accolade opens doors; more TV and Radio interviews, podcasts, more coverage to get us the support we need. I am hoping to find more sustainable financial support and collaborate with neurodiverse celebrities who can help shine a light on those struggling in a similar way. If anyone reading this wants to get in touch to collaborate or support us, please do!


What were your thoughts on the National Diversity Awards Ceremony?


The whole evening had a seriously uplifting feel, the people in the room are the exact people you’d like to meet. There were no egos or anxiety, just happy, friendly and genuinely kind people everywhere. I am a HUGE Clare Balding fan so to meet her onstage and hear her words of encouragement was totally surreal. It was brilliantly put together and knowing it was being live streamed was awesome for everyone to catch it!


Nominations for the National Diversity Awards 2024 are due to open early next year! What advice would you give to others who are thinking of entering the awards?


I would say go for it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, it’s a brilliant experience.


Did receiving the award benefit you in anyway? If so, how?


Most definitely. I think the scale of the competition being national (with 90,000 nominations in my year) adds immediate kudos and gravity to my work. It’s something that I am really proud to share. Most importantly, my Learn to shine school family benefit from a huge boost in confidence as we celebrate our wins together. Anything that shines a light on what they are achieving, outside of ‘normal’, prescriptive way of doing things, is brilliant news.


What have you been up to since September, any exciting developments you would like to tell our audience about?


In October, I was headhunted by publishing house Usborne books to be their expert advisor on a new book (coming out this year), which I am extremely excited about. It will feel amazing to see that in print. Knowing that it will always exist in the world to help readers develop compassion and understanding of neurodiverse children gives me the tingles!


Why do you think it is important to recognise role models and community organisations from underrepresented communities for their work?


Despite rising awareness of the term ‘Neurodiversity’, if anything, the urgent need for support in education is spiralling. The need for genuine, NOT tokenistic support and authentic listening needs to be amped up, and right now. As long as my workload contains children illegally excluded for unsupported disability, children abandoned from education, children suffering PTSD from their experiences and becoming school refusers, children left alone in corridors for hours, I will remain FURIOUS and will keep fighting. I have ADHD and have achieved amazing things - I want every child to have that self-belief that they can achieve greatness. The system is broken and needs warriors and role models to protect the young minds who think they are failures, when the system has failed them. That starts with recognition.