A school has continued to strive for excellence, while protecting well-being, despite the pandemic. Our reporter spoke to staff to find out more…
Mary Immaculate High School, in Wenvoe, is a Catholic school with 794 pupils currently on role, headed by Huw Powell who’s been in the role for almost seven years.
The school aims to ensure pupils have the best possible education with all staff members – including ‘Secondary School Teacher of the Year’ Mrs Victoria Carey – ‘dedicated to pupil’s learning and well-being’.
Mr Powell said: “We make sure that the learning pupils receive is of the highest quality by investing in training and development for our teachers.”
“We also ensure we know our pupils well pastorally; as a smaller school we get to know the pupils well and they know us, meaning there’s a positive ethos built on respect and consideration of others.
“We also build strong relationships with our families and the community.”
The Catholic School has the values of care, kindness and compassion built into their ethos, with pupils given the opportunity to go on retreats and explore their beliefs.
Charity work is also important to the school; every year they raise thousands and every Christmas they provide a party for the elderly of the parishes.
“This year, in spite of the pandemic, we were able to provide more than 250 hampers for the elderly and those on free school meals throughout our community,” said Mr Powell.
“Pupils and staff put these together in their own time because they wanted to show their love for others in the face of the difficulties all face.”
Mary Immaculate High School’s last Estyn report was in 2015 and rated the school as ‘good’.
“Pupils make excellent progress with us – Estyn identified this by saying our prospects were excellent,” said Mr Powell.
“We feel we have fulfilled this as pupils still gain results in the top 10 per cent nationally with the schools results overall showing huge progress.
“This is down to excellent teaching, strong relationships and a relentless focus on pupils gaining the best results they can, regardless of their background or specific need.”
The headteacher acknowledges that pupils need support to meet these expectations, which is done via their ‘highly regarded’ Bridge Support Unit, which helps with bereavement, resilience, communication and general support for youngsters and their families.
Mary Immaculate High School also offers a wide range of extra-curricular opportunities.
“The school has an enviable reputation for sports – we have defeated much bigger schools in competitions for many years,” said Mr Powell.
“We have and have had numerous pupils in sporting academies or who competed at national and international level, from football to rugby to kayaking and snooker.
“We have had pupils participate in sailing competitions and some who even visited the Americas Cup race in 2019 as guests of Ineos.
“Pupils can also take part in a huge variety of other activities from drama (we have pupils who have appeared in TV or local theatre productions) to cookery, arts and crafts, debating and chess.
“We put on a free school bus at the end of school so all pupils can participate yet still get home safely.”
Ensuring that pupils are confident speakers is another priority for Mary Immaculate High School.
“Pupils can be elected to our school parliament and from there visit and take part in debates at the Senedd, present at Governor meetings and lead whole school elections that run parallel to national Elections,” explained Mr Powell.
“They represent the school in its transition, ethos and pastoral work and ensure everything we do is in the best interests of young people.
“They were at the forefront of the case for voting at 16, speaking on the radio and arguing their case. Many of our pupils have also appeared on TV – for example on BBC Breakfast on results day and on National BBC and ITV news when school reopened last term.
“They made us and their community proud.”
The school building and facilities are ‘modern’ and ‘excellent’ including suites of computer rooms and a large canteen, with a coffee shop.
Mr Powell said: “This year we have added a new hall and new multi-gym with brand new equipment. New tennis courts and a re-developed library will be in place for September 2021, with more than £5,000 of new books.
“We have also given out more than 350 laptops to pupils in the last nine months; their commitment to home learning has demonstrated their resilience and dedication.”
Assistant headteacher, Rhys Corcoran, added: “As we went into the third lockdown, we recognised the need to further improve our provision with regards to home learning and our blended learning offer.
“After a trial we decided we would roll out live lessons for all year groups in January to improve the learning our young people receive.”
Digital deprivation had previously prevented this, but Cardiff Council provided the school with more than 300 Chromebooks to support pupils in need.
Plus the school has provided WI-Fi to more than 25 pupils who didn’t have broadband access at home – the Wi-Fi dongles were provided by Cardiff Council.
“The live lessons have proven to be successful, and we have increased sessions for examination groups as they have become more used to this method of learning,” added Mr Corcoran.
Summing up, Mr Powell said: “Our pupils are our best ambassadors – whether it is in class or at home working, involved in sports or cultural activities or just exemplifying the gospel values that are at the heart of our school.
“At open evenings parents were impressed with how they spoke about themselves and the school, which is why the school is popular and continues to be so over-subscribed.
“Parents appreciate what we do, and we appreciate their support.”