In the heart of Pontypool is a school that prides itself on its caring atmosphere but also a place that challenges its pupils. ANGHARAD WILLIAMS reports

ST ALBANS RC High School is located in the historic Pontypool Park House where the Hanbury family once lived. The school has expanded from the main building, but the original house and its original features are still kept and used to this day.

Head teacher Stephen Lord started working at the school in September and said: “I love the place. The atmosphere around the school is wonderful and there is a caring but professional relationship between the staff and students.”

Before he began working in Pontypool he spent 17 years at St Joseph’s RC High School in Newport and taught pupils including rugby player Lewis Evans, Leon Brown and Newport County’s Michael Flynn and West Hams James Collins

“We are a caring, Christian community,” Mr Lord said, “and our ethos is driven by the Gospel values of care, compassion, love and respect and that can be felt when you walk around the school.

The Catholic school serves a number of parishes in Gwent and the local parish church is St Alban’s Catholic Church which is located in Conway Road.

Children from Blaenavon, Abergavenny and Cwmbran and have a variety of backgrounds and all pupils have the opportunity to excel.

The staff aim to challenge pupils and this shows in the success of pupils that attend the school.

Not all students are Catholic but many take part in the school’s religious services.

Mr Lord added: “We are extremely proud of the success at the school, and that’s a testament to the staff who go well beyond and above what they do. They really value the ethos of the school and our motto which is ‘Be the best you can be’.”

The school prides itself on working with the individual needs of children and offers them the support they need to succeed. They work to identify pupils who need extra support early in their school lives and have an engagement team in the newly opened Sanctuary building.

“It was an old caretaker’s house that was refurbished,” Mr Lord said. “It is a safe haven for children to talk to trained staff and other students. We have an amazing team for pupils with additional needs.”

“We care for them but also the ones who often get forgotten about – the high-performing students that worry about their exams.

“There is a lot of pressure on pupils but preparation is key as is giving them the skills to deal with the pressure. We spend a lot of time preparing individual students for examinations and we have breakfast revision clubs, after-school clubs and ones during holidays.”

There are also pupil mentoring schemes in place to help pupils and students will support others where they can.

“The outstanding relationship between staff and pupils is key to our success,” Mr Lord said. “It is very much about sharing with us and being open. Students will ask questions, work together with peers, work in groups and they develop a resilient skill set by working with staff to develop them.”

“We place a lot of emphasis on listening to our learners,” Mr Lord added, “and we have students at Inset days and helping us look at lessons and give us feedback on teaching and learning strategies.

“Pupils will work with us to plan for the future so we can continue to develop and give them the best education possible.”

The school sits in Pontypool Park and the school uses this as a resource, and pupils can be seen having lessons there.

The school is in a unique setting and some of the buildings are steeped in history.

“We are in a beautiful building to work within, and some of the classrooms you just envisage how it might have been as the historical house. Students respond to that and treat it with a lot of respect.

At the centre of the school is “Our chapel which is open all day and students will go in there and be very reverend. It is a special place.”

The school has forged strong links within the community including local businesses

Mr Lord said: “St Albans is very much a Pontypool school and we are very proud of that. The pupils are very valued and respected in the community.

“Businesses come and speak with the students in the school. The senior students go out at lunchtimes and businesses are glowing about their conduct around the town centre.

“On market day you see the students interact with stall holders and there is a very respectful relationship. “

Mr Lord explains that it is a “community feel school” and says it is important to fell that they are part of the community.

The school runs a number of festivals and activities and the community and dignitaries will support

Pupils have the opportunity to try their hand at a number of activities and the school has a long tradition of success when it come to their sports teams and drama department.

The school choir go on tour every year and perform in Disneyland Paris. The choir has in the region of 90 members and they rehearse before school and perform in Disneyland Paris.

The school is proud of the academic successes and many of its past pupils visit the school long after they leave.

Mr Lord said: “We have always who go to Oxford or Cambridge and they come back to the school and speak with fondness of their experience at St Albans. They are very proud and glad they came to the school.”