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SOTM: St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Barry

WELLBEING, community and values are key at St Richard Gwyn High School, which promotes resilience and success. Reporter LEAH POWELL found out more…

St Richard Gwyn (SRG) Catholic High School, on Argae Lane in Barry, has 803 pupils currently on roll, with this number increasing to 833 – the school’s biggest Year Seven cohort yet.

Mr David Blackwell has been head teacher at the school since February 2020, following his role as deputy head for more than four years.

Barry And District News: Headteacher Mr David BlackwellHeadteacher Mr David Blackwell

He is backed by deputy head Matthew Dunn; assistant headteachers Laura Burnett (progress and wellbeing lead) and Amy Leftley (in charge of standards); and senior core leader Sharon Macleod.

The school’s last Estyn report was in 2017 – the school was rated ‘adequate’ overall but with good prospects of improvement.

Explaining some of the improvements made since, Mr Blackwell said: “We have fully embedded the Jesuit Pupil Profile into the life of staff and students.

“The Jesuit Pupil Profile gives a focus to the citizens that we wish to nurture at SRG. It reminds staff and students that virtues towards the needs of others is paramount to the essence of our humanity.”

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He continued: We have always prioritised wellbeing of our students but over the last two years we have developed a ‘wellbeing/progress centre. Support staff have been trained extensively to ensure that all students are ready to learn.

“The wellbeing team are always on hand to assist with the students wellbeing by offering sessions for ELSA, Thrive and Mental Health/Wellbeing. We even have two wellbeing dogs that support some of our more vulnerable learners.

“We work very closely with a variety of external agencies to support our students needs to ensure students are engaged and feel safe and secure and able to fulfil their full potential.”

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The school caters to pupils with additional learning needs and to staff wellbeing. Staff at the school have training, progression opportunities, open door policy of support, and clear lines of communication.

“Teaching and learning continues to be our core focus,” added Mr Blackwell.

“The 2017 Inspection report praised students at SRG for ‘their positive attitude to learning’. We have built upon this and we now offer a Scholar’s Programme to prepare students for their education pathway.

“We want to offer students a chance to broaden their educational experience with us. We have broadened our option subjects at KS4 – we are now able to offer Construction, Health and Social Care and Textiles and Fashion.

“We are committed to the promotion of SRG as a learning organisation. To this end we have entered into an ITE Partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University and an alliance with St.Illtyd’s Catholic Comprehensive in Cardiff. It is mutually beneficial since we help develop new teachers into the profession and we are able to utilise educational research to improve standards across both key stages.”

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The Catholic school strives to ensures pupils succeed, while also being good people.

“We aim for our pupils to live by the ethos of our pupil profile which is about virtues to empower them to be a success in life,” added Mr Blackwell.

“We are the faith secondary school of the Vale and so provide an excellent secondary education that runs equally alongside our holistic development of our pupils as individuals and good all round people.”

The Catholic ethos is embedded into daily life at the school, with morning prayer, virtues-based assemblies, and daily reflection.

“All staff engage in role modelling behaviour that reflects the Catholic virtues of honesty, integrity and forgiveness,” added Mr Blackwell.“During normal school times Mass is a frequent part of our school life – not all pupils come to us with a faith background, but they all appreciate the values that we try to weave into our everyday lives.”

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Along with the school’s ethical focus St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School has an abundance of extra-curricular activities on offer, including school trips.

Sporty youngsters can take part in football, rugby, netball, hockey, tennis, badminton, athletics, cheerleading and street dance. There’s also Clwb Cymraeg and an array of creative activities on offer – including art club, textiles club, choir, SRG band.

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Bi-annually the music, drama, and art departments join forces to produce and perform an arts production.

St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School strives to form ‘positive relationships’ with families and the local community and has a Facebook group regularly updated with video messages from Mr Blackwell and key messages for families.

Each year group has a Progress Leader who is a point of contact for families as well as our Wellbeing and Progress Centre who liaises with families on a regular basis. Plus, St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School is in the process of obtaining the Investors in Families (IIF mark), which – in a nutshell – ‘is a quality mark that recognises the work that schools and other settings undertake with families to improve outcomes for children and young people.’

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The school is also ‘proud’ to have worked with numerous charities – including fundraising for local food banks and helping Keep Wales Tidy with beach cleans.

The school has also adapted a ‘great’ deal during the coronavirus pandemic – with the immediate priority being health and safety such as year group ‘bubbles’, separate lunches, allocated outdoor spaces, regular sanitizing and face coverings.

“The biggest impact, in terms of day to day operation, meant teachers moved more between lessons than students,” said Mr Blackwell.

“Crucial to adapting to the pandemic was to adoption of online learning. There have been periods of lockdown with no pupils in school as well as fortnightly periods that have required year groups to isolate.”

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He praised the training and use of online platforms as ‘transformative’. and added that – while it’s ‘fantastic’ to resume in-person learning these changes and developments will continue to improve how the school operates.

The school is ‘very fortunate’ to have been supported by the local authority to make the best of the buildings they have, but the school is awaiting progress on a new build under the 21st Century schools programme, financed by Welsh Government.

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“We firmly believe that what goes on inside school is more important than the way the building looks externally,” said Mr Blackwell.

“We have amazing staff who work exceptionally hard to make the best of the facilities we have, all pupils who come to us get a great educational experience.

“However, we are still awaiting progress on a new build. We will continue to work hard to improve our facilities with the support of our Governors and the local authority, but at the same time we will continue to lobby to get the new build progressed as soon as possible so that our pupils not only get a fantastic experience, but they also get it in state-of-the-art facilities they deserve.”

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