LAURA LEA visits St Joseph’s Primary School in Newport where a love of learning is at the heart of the close-knit school.
ST JOSEPH’S Primary School is one of the city’s Roman Catholic voluntary aided schools, in the trusteeship of the Archdiocese of Cardiff.
On my visit, deputy head teacher Andie O’Brien, who has been at the school for almost five years, led me round.
Walking through the hall, a drum lesson was taking place with a Gwent Music Support Service teacher. Two of the pupils involved had just received their first examination certificates.
The school is keen to promote music and head teacher Peter Knight said all the children get the opportunity to sing, play an instrument, and take part in dance and sport.
The school’s orchestra is taking part in the National Festival of Music after half term, while the choir have won awards too.
These activities add to a long list of extra-curricular clubs including story-telling, iPad club and gardening.
Out in the yard, planters and a garden line the playground. These are the responsibility of the eco committee. The school has received three green flags and is now working towards iSchool of the Week: Hockey players, left to right, Ffion Parker, Llewelyn Clements, Mason Collins, Sam Beckett, Felix Pelling, Matt Manchip, Katie Poretta, Ruben Casa-Grande, Bethan Jots platinum award.
The committee is made up from children from year one to year six with two pupils per year group. Students are required to write a letter to apply to be a representative. The committee, who meet each fortnight, has recently been responsible for getting food waste bins.
Sarah Neale, who co-ordinates the eco work, said: “They are very active in making decisions for the school.”
Sport is a major part of the school’s core and extra curriculum and when we visited, the year five and six hockey team were eager to show off their skills.
Mrs O’Brien said: “We do a lot of our games provision out at Spytty.”
The school brings in professional coaches, like those from the Gwent dragons, to train the children as well as the children being able to use facilities like the swimming pool at the international sports village.
“It’s just to give them other opportunities because as you can see, we’re quite landlocked here,” said Mrs O’Brien.
The Victorian school is packed full of character with almost every inch of wall space adorned with children’s work. A particularly colourful corridor followed an under the sea theme.
We called in to a year two maths class which was a hive of activity. They were working on reasoning tests as part of the new numeracy framework for schools with pupils working both independently at desks and in groups on the floor.
Along another corridor is the year three and four internet cafe where two students were working on laptops on the easy maths programme.
This software, purchased by the school, gives 15 minute timeslots to pupils to work on maths skills. Pupils can then access the programme at home too while teachers are constantly able to track their progress and any difficulties they might incur.
“It’s a far more exciting way of doing maths homework,” said Mrs O’Brien. “It’s having a great effect on those who are more able and talented too and are able to go off and explore things.”
But for all the gadgets and displays, Mrs O’Brien maintains it’s about “children first and foremost”.
“We are all about high standards and engagement,” said Mr Knight.
“We believe the children have got to love learning and have fun – especially at primary school. We believe that gets us our high standards."
Peter Knight joined the school as head teacher in September 2011and is responsible of the so-called “culture shift” at the school.
He said: “The school already had a really good reputation achievement wise, but I wanted to create a culture of enjoyment and tap into the skills of staff.”
“It’s looking at the staff’s well-being as well as the children’s,” Mrs O’Brien added.
A catholic ethos is at the heart of everything the school do. Independent prayer is encouraged with prayer areas in every room.
“That’s something we can offer that others can’t,” said Mr Knight.
“Not all our pupils go to church. For some of our children, school is church, so we are the people helping them get closer to God.”
Mrs O’Brien said: “We try to encourage the children to help others. There is a big drive for fundraising.”
They include the Catholic charities like Cafod but also the ones which touch the children’s lives like St. David’s Hospice and Newport Shelter.
The head teacher believes the school’s relatively small size is an asset. He said: “We know everybody and they feel that. There are no invisible children here. If something goes wrong we can fix it straight away.”
Mrs O’Brien said: “We are very fortunate our children are kind and caring and because of that, the behaviour here is exceptional.”
The school is proud of its strong links between feeder nursery Fairoak and catchment secondary school St Joseph’s, with whom they arrange trips and visits ahead of year six leaving.
Mr Knight said: “It’s about a love of learning. We want to the children to see that we are all learning – we don’t stop learning.”
Head teacher: Peter Knight
Deputy head teacher: Andie O’Brien
Head of governors: Pat Drewett
Pupils on roll: 204
Age range: four to 11-years-old
Motto: Loving God through our love of learning and our love for one another.
Last Inspection: June 2011
The school’s performance was deemed ‘good’ with good standards and teaching with effective care, support and guidance procedures contributing positively to pupils’ wellbeing. Recommendations included improving pupils’ Welsh language skills, refining thematic planning to ensure continuity and progression in pupils’ skills and improving leadership.