Formerly Hartridge High School, the new-build Llanwern High is celebrating its first anniversary today and could achieve the best ever exam results of either school this summer. EMMA MACKINTOSH went along to take stock of the school’s achievements over the last 12 months.

A NEW name and new uniform are not the only things which went into creating Llanwern High School a year ago.

The three crumbling buildings of the old lower, middle and upper schools, which pupils remember as cold and difficult to work in, were demolished and one central hub with a glass foyer was created at a cost of around £29 million.

Gone is the old uniform of polo T-shirts and jumpers - now pupils walk around the school’s colourful hallways in smart black blazers, the colour chosen by the students themselves, complete with the logo of the alder tree which the area of Llanwern is named after. Inspirational mottos and even QR codes line the walls, as well as students’ work.

The school’s 950 pupils pay for their dinners with a cashless card system, removing the stigma which can surround free school meals, and have art, drama, technology and PE lessons in facilities which would not be out of place in a university.

The site, which has capacity for 1,450 pupils, was officially opened by Welsh rugby stars Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau on Wednesday, September 19, last year, but students and teachers had been using the facility since May.

Head teacher Peter Jenkins presided over the final two years of Hartridge and the last 12 months at Llanwern High School, which changed its name at the governors’ recommendation.

“We would not disown our links to Hartridge but we are based in the Llanwern ward and it was felt teachers were not applying to work here because of the school’s reputation,”

he said.

“There was a renaming exercise and we put the names to the pupils. Their favourite was Hogwarts along with things like Ringway, combining Alway and Ringland, but once we thought of Llanwern that seemed to fit.”

Deputy head Rob King said: “It was completely new so it felt very right that it was a new identity altogether.

There was rightful pride in the old name.”

Phase two of the project, turning the ground where the old buildings stood into a floodlit pitch, is still underway and is expected to be completed within 10 weeks.

The new school does not yet have any GCSE or A-Level results on which to judge performance, but it’s expected to have its best ever results this summer, spurred on by the new facilities.

The school has also opened its doors after school until 10pm and from 9am to 5pm at weekends.

Every night 300 to 400 people from 40 groups use the sports and conference facilities, generating revenue for the school, while Job Growth Wales has helped to create new teaching posts in English, maths and PE.

Upstairs in the acoustically deadened Jampod music room, students use the six work stations to play guitars, drums and keyboard, and listen to their work through headphones.

Nearby primary schools including Alway and Ringland have been using the facility, and it has made a big difference to Llanwern’s GCSE pupils, explained music teacher of 34 years, Glenys Graham-White.

“It has made a massive impact to Year 10 GCSE classes, we can do so much more in terms of group work and there has been a massive uptake in children opting to do music at GCSE,” she said.

“The choir has had more high profile gigs in the last year and we have new ideas for this year’s summer concert.”

In Emma Llewellyn’s Year 8 English class, the pupils are thinking of questions to ask the poet Wilfred Owen, and are on track to achieve the best results in the school’s history.

“It’s not just about the classroom, we have Kindles and audio books, even newspapers, trying to find whatever medium is best to engage with pupils,” said Ms Llewellyn.

Attainment is just as high outside the classroom, with youngsters travelling from Swansea and Bristol every day to attend Newport County’s football academy at the school, which sees sixth formers doing two hours a day of football and training.

There is also a basketball academy and possibly a girls football academy in the future.

Glyn Jones, director of the football academy, said the team plays as Llanwern midweek and as Newport County on Saturdays, and is top of the England and Wales Colleges League, hoping to get promotion to the Premier.

“The idea is to move the players up to the Newport County first team eventually,”

he said. “Five of the boys are going to America on university scholarships so we are thrilled to bits.”

Several of the school’s drama pupils got parts in the pantomime at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre and can practice their lines on a fully lit raised stage.

Even simple things like the new sports hall being warm have made a difference, said PE teacher Lisa Griffin.

“I used to come to work cold and leave cold, but now I count my lucky stars because we are really fortunate to be in this environment,” said Mrs Griffin.

Aside from the all important GCSE and ALevel results in the summer, the school’s first ever awards evening is due to take place in October.

New buildings win thumbs-up

PUPILS from Years 9, 10 and 11 spoke about the difference the new buildings have made to their day-to-day school experience.

Connor Shefford, in Year 10, said new sports equipment and the sports hall are better suited for their PE lessons and the in-school gym is popular.

Stevie Ball, in Year 11, said the new buildings are much warmer and she feels healthier and finds it easier to learn, while fellow Year 11 pupil John Langdon said the drama studio now has better lighting and sound, with an AV room where pupils can control technical aspects of production.

A recent debating competition saw pupils from other schools come to Llanwern, which provided an opportunity to show the school off, he said.

Other pupils said the music room’s new Apple Mac computers make it much easier to create their own compositions and do their coursework.