IT MAY be a historic school but when it comes to educating children West Monmouth has lots of unique and modern methods as JOHN PHILLIPS finds out.
WEST Monmouth School is steeped in history. The Victorian school was built after a trade association based in London called The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers bequeathed money for the foundation of a grammar school in Monmouth.
Founded in 1896, the establishment in Blaendare Road, Pontypool, accommodated 70 boarders and 30 day boys in its inaugural year.
The school grew over the years with new buildings added to the imposing structure and became a comprehensive in 1982.
It has retained its traditions of excellence and last year achieved very good GCSE results with 80 per cent of pupils gaining five or more A* to Cs.
The school also prides itself for being a modern secondary with state-of-the-art facilities including a multi-media studio with a green screen and a theatre with a control room and retractable seats.
The school’s last Estyn inspection showed that key stage four pupils had good standards in subjects like maths, geography and modern languages and also excelled in physical education.
West Monmouth has nurtured a great rugby tradition dating back several decades and pupils go on rugby tours of Canada every three years.
The summer tour is a great opportunity for the 40 or so year 10 and 11 pupils, who now also visit rugby clubs in the US.
The players met counterparts from Fleetwood Park secondary school near Vancouver and also went to Washingston state and Seattle.
Assistant head Gareth Cooksey said: “We went to Canada for seven days and America for seven days. We stopped at four different places, played at three clubs and one school. There are also lots of activities like whale watching, mountain biking and canoeing.
“There are pockets in America where they are very passionate about rugby.”
West Monmouth pupil Matthew Bowles said after his tour last year: “I was proud to go on the tour as captain.
“The boys and the staff were amazing – like one big family. It was one of the reasons I chose West Monmouth School when I was in New Inn. I am glad I did. My five years at West Mon were brilliant but the tour was out of this world.”
PE is definitely high on the agenda at West Monmouth and on May 8 the school will host its first ever sports awards with Welsh international rugby referee Nigel Owens as guest of honour.
I watch a PE lesson featuring circuit training with music which PE teacher Laura Griffiths, 25, told me makes a big difference.
She said: “They tell me what they listen to and I put it in my player. This is a really good class, they are very keen.”
The school is quite innovative, not only by virtue of the equipment it uses, but also its teaching methods.
The Haberdashers Theatre, for instance, is impressive with its fully retractable multi-row seating area and its control room.
The recording studio is another facility which boasts the latest equipment. A group of pupils use the suite to make short films as part of their media studies.
The team's director Georgia Parfitt-Coombes, 15, said: “It’s really fun. It’s great to work in a group, in a team and it’s great to have a go at every piece of equipment.”
Another media pupil Lucy Gregory, 15, added: “We both want to go into careers in the media.”
The school is equally good at using recent teaching methods to accommodate its new pupils.
Instead of throwing them at the deep end, the school allocates the year seven students a core teacher responsible for tuition in English, geography, history, RE and PE.
The teaching method, delivered as part of the Explore Curriculum, helps the pupils settle in a secondary environment without experiencing too much change while allowing them to discover subjects like science with other teachers in the school.
Assistant headteacher Claire Hughes said: “The children like it because it eases them into the school and the parents like it because they don’t have to move around too much.”
During the tour of the school we watch a practical lesson in the lab with science teacher Matthew Richards.
The experiments with hydrogen peroxide and shaving foam are a fun way to engage students.
Science pupil Charlotte Barton, 13, said: “It’s kind of fun.” Fellow student Abigail Cox, 14, added: “It’s very interesting.”
We also stop in the design and technology department where pupils make apple crumble and pancakes to mark Shrove Tuesday.
Pupil Josh Jones, 13, said: “It teaches you about ovens and I like the cooking as well. I enjoy it, like apple crumbles we’re doing now and scones that we made last year.”
Head of Design and Technology Clare Deasy, 34, said: “It is a great opportunity to apply skills and knowledge. It is a life skill as well to be able to cook.”
The school is proud of its latest GCSE results as the proportion of pupils who achieved good grades increased from 70 per cent to 80 per cent in just one year.
Headteacher Clive Jackson said: “We’re all very proud of the improving results.
“We now feel we are a school that supports our community very strongly.
“We have very strong primary links and a very successful Canada tour.”
Head teacher: Clive Jackson
Chairman of governors: John Killick
Pupils on roll: 700
Age range: 11 to 16-years-old
School motto: Serve and obey
Following its last Estyn inspection in 2010 the school inspectorate found that:
West Monmouth School had many good and very good features, particularly in the quality of education it provides and in its leadership and management.
The standards that pupils achieve have good features that outweigh shortcomings.
The good features are especially evident at KS4 with good standards in maths, design and technology, foreign languages, geography and music and good standards with outstanding features in physical education.
Many pupils, including those with special educational needs, achieve standards which are good or very good in relation to their abilities.
Most pupils make good progress in building upon their prior learning.
Most pupils work conscientiously and behave responsibly. They understand the importance of equality of opportunity and show respect for the diversity within society. This prepares them well for participation in the work place and the community.