A library assistant from Doon Academy has been crowned the winner of a national competition aimed at recognising school staff who went above and beyond to assist pupils during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gaela Hall, 48, was nominated for a Lockdown Legend award by the school’s Principal Teacher in the hope that her stellar efforts in helping parents and pupils navigate their way through the pressures of home-schooling would be heeded.

The competition, run by the Tree of Knowledge and determined by a panel of expert judges, searched the length and breadth of Scotland to unearth the shining stars of Scottish Education who had stepped up during lockdown.

After reviewing 242 nominations and 136 individual stories, Ms Hall was declared the victor – much to her delight and surprise.

Gaela said: “We were screaming the place down, it was ridiculous. We were going to watch the results come through in KFC so I’m glad we didn’t as I would have embarrassed myself.

“After lockdown, I obviously couldn’t do my job as a library assistant as I couldn’t give out books. What we needed was technology in houses so I got the iPads from the school and delivered them to kids who needed them the most.

“Sometimes a house would have two or three kids to a PC and they would be a mix of primary and secondary so I delivered to these families. The whole world was on Teams and Google Classrooms so I also helped update people’s PCs in my own house.

“My husband is an IT consultant so he knows his stuff, but he kept getting a bit annoyed with me trying to update 10 iPads and jamming the whole system. I updated around 40-50 iPads during lockdown.”

Cumnock Chronicle: Harry and Aidan, Gaela's sons.Harry and Aidan, Gaela's sons.

As well as providing practical support, Gaela was also on hand to lend an ear and be a source of emotional and mental support for families who were struggling to cope.

She says her various roles in schools across East Ayrshire – where she has worked as a cleaner, dinner lady and classroom assistant – has moulded her into a “mammy” figure to local kids.

Gaela continued: “I did home visits too and gave my mobile number along with the iPads if they needed me to advise them. It was great to catch up with them.

“I’ve worked in the primary schools for years so have known a lot of the kids since they were young. I’m like a second mammy to them. I’m Gaela, not Miss Hall. There’s no poshness with me and they know they can confide in me.”

As her prize, Gaela will enjoy a two night break with husband, Paul, and sons, Harry, 12, and Aidan, 10, at a Treehouse in Dunbar.

Kenneth Reilly, Head Teacher at Doon Academy, said: "We have always known that Gaela was a legend in the Doon Valley but it is fantastic to see that recognised at a national level with an award such as this.

"During lockdown she simply did not stop – one minute she was delivering laptops to young people who might otherwise have been left in isolation, the next she was popping up in the school kitchen and helping provide regular meals for families facing the incredible challenges that came along with the lockdown period.

"Quite simply, she is a total star and we are incredibly lucky to have her as part of the Doon Academy team."