SCHOOL OF THE WEEK: Duffryn High School, Newport

South Wales Argus: Head of Geography Anna Knight takes a class Head of Geography Anna Knight takes a class

NINE years ago, only a fifth of students at Duffryn High School, in Newport, achieved five good GCSEs. Now more than 80 per cent of their students are achieving that standard.

Jon Wilson, the school’s head teacher, said the improvement can be attributed to several factors.He said: “There’s a whole host of reasons, not least because we have the best young teachers at the cutting edge of learning.”

Indeed, touring the school it is clear that many of the teachers are younger than most. All the teachers are clearly passionate about the school, its improvement and are working hard to improve the school’s results further.

When Mr Wilson arrived at the school, there was no uniform policy. He said introducing that to Duffryn was another reason for the school getting better.

He said: “Smart uniform, smart school.”

On his office wall there are big posters of the Black Panthers Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on their podiums in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and Muhammad Ali – people who triumphed over adversity to make good.

On Ali, he said: “He stood up for what he believed. It takes something to do that.”

And similarly he is passionate about the way in which people in the school can do anything they want to do. He said he wants to drive change in pupils’ lives and ensure that the school does the very best for them.

The school is waiting to be rebuilt and for new facilities. The Welsh Government has said £34 million will be given to the school imminently – but the school’s refurbishment is another thing that was slowed down by the credit crunch.

But that is no reason why attainment should not be impressive or lag behind, the headteacher said.

The impressive attainment record followed his arrival at the school nine years ago. He underwent cancer treatment and took a year off after three years as head teacher. And a photo of him part-way through a bike ride in France to raise £9,000 for the Macmillan Cancer Support sits on the wall with Smith, Carlos, Ali, his daughter and his dog.

Even his dog is a Duffryn boy. Alfie was roaming around the school grounds; Mr Wilson picked him up and took him home.

The school is still as challenging as it was nine years ago. Its intake is made up of 30 per cent ethnic minorities, which Mr Wilson said is as much a benefit as it can be difficult.

Some students arrive with limited English, if any, and the school does its best to improve that as quickly as possible.

Students in that position will be referred to a special unit and their language skills worked on intensively until they are ready to be included in mainstream classes.

The school also tries to set a tone of respect. It has held a Remembrance Assembly every year since Mr Wilson arrived and invites eminent members of the community to share their memories and feelings about wars.

This year, Captain Ivan Beattie from the Welsh Memorial in Flanders campaign spoke to 400 of the school’s Year 7, 8 and sixth form students.

But students are not just seen and unheard – far from it.

The school has instituted a scheme of what they call student voice lesson observations.

Students in Years 9 and 10 are given the opportunity to train and assess teachers’ lessons so they can give them feedback on how they think their lessons might be improved.

All participation from teachers is voluntary, but Kerry Sexton, who teaches Welsh and is in charge of the project, said more and more teachers are involving themselves and all who have taken part have responded in a positive way.

She said: “We started it to make it better for the students. We said, ‘be honest with us’.”

All information shared between students and teachers is confidential.

Training to assess teachers starts at the end of Year 9 for students who want to be involved.

And there is a desire to see students as consumers, people who are not just there to receive education and go home at the end of the day but rather people who are able to take an active role in constructing what they want to do with their lives and the school’s environment.

Part of that in action was Mr Wilson’s contribution of £3,000 to the student council. Students spent the money on benches and new litter bins across the school.

On the benches, there are plaques to remind them that they, or at least their classmates, decided to buy them for the whole student body.

The student council is active and there are two representatives from every form group, with six to eight forms in every year group.

And other groups are included in how the school operates, too.

There is a school nutrition group, an eco group and another that looks into running a garden project on the school grounds.

Not only that, but eight teachers have volunteered themselves in a project in which their lessons are filmed and they watch them back to see if they can improve on what they did in that lesson.

Assistant head teacher Jane Wilkie started the project and one of the participants was Anna Knight, head of geography.

She said: “It was really good – it was good for me and good for the students.”

She compared herself to a sports person who picks up details they would not have known had they not watched themselves on a video.

And the school has embraced technology in other ways. Rob Gregory, the head of numeracy, has started a project where students solve maths problems on a video, which is put online for other students to watch and learn from.

It is designed to make learning fun, different from other lessons and to ensure that parents are not teaching their children the wrong methods.

The department’s improvement was noted by an Estyn inspection last September.

FACT FILE:

Head Teacher: Jon Wilson
Pupils: 1,280
Head of Governors: Sue O’Brian
School Motto: Developing high standards of learning and respect
Ages: 11-18
Estyn Report: 2009 "Duffryn High School is judged to have made good progress in relation to the recommendations for improvement Senior managers have established extensive and robust monitoring procedures that are raising expectations and having a clear impact on the school’s work and the standards pupils achieve.

Senior managers carry out informal and formal reviews of the quality of collective worship. These reviews have helped to promote the most effective approaches.

New staffing arrangements and initiatives are having a positive impact and contributing to improvements in standards in mathematics and science.

The school is making good progress in improving the quality of teaching."

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