AS A WELSH medium secondary school, Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s push to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050. THOMAS MOODY visited the school to find out how this can benefit the students.

Only five percent of pupils at the school come from Welsh speaking homes, but headteacher Elan Bolton believes that encouraging bilingualism at school can only benefit students.

She said: “95 percent of our children come from non-Welsh speaking homes, and they are all completely bilingual.

“That is why we are here. In the Modern Wales, to be able to show that you are bilingual, it gives you so many more opportunities. It’s about enriching the children in two cultures.

“As part of encouraging Welsh culture, we do a lot of things. We had our Eisteddfod, where we did a Welsh version of Hairspray at the Congress Theatre in Cwmbran, which was performed completely in Welsh.

“We have just done a film, which is up for the Iris Awards. It was shown in Cardiff as part of the Iris Education Festival. It is now going to be used as a teaching resource for talking about tolerance and acceptance and educating against homophobia.

“When they start in year seven, we have a week’s residential course in a Welsh outdoor activity centre in Bala. They go off there for a week, where they are encouraged to make friends and speak together in Welsh so it becomes a habit that they speak Welsh together.

“We take them in groups of 40 to Tresaith in year eight and in year 10 to give them a view of a different part of Wales, and so they can see that Welsh can be used outside the classroom, that it is a social language as well.”

The school have recently been awarded a Welsh Government grant, enabling them to open a Welsh medium primary school on the site.

This goes along with the school’s ethos of giving back to the local Welsh speaking community.

Ms Bolton said: “In the sixth form, we have brought in a couple of new courses – criminology and childcare. The childcare course is accredited and run by the Welsh Nursery Organisation, which enables them to be able to work in nursery education in the locality.

“It’s like we are giving back to the schools that produce these children initially. It’s bringing it full circle. It emphasises that Welsh opens doors for you as well.

“We have got a lot of past pupils here who are now teaching. We are an employer for students that have come through here. A lot of our teaching assistants have come through here, the staff in the office are local.”

Mrs Bolton took over as headteacher two years ago, and is focused on putting the children at the centre of any changes that the school makes.

She said: “My personal ethos is every learner will succeed, and that includes myself and all of my staff in that too.

“Whatever they are good at we endeavour to help them achieve.

“We decided to change the way that children are grouped. A lot of groups are now mixed-ability in key-stage three and key stage four. It allows the children to excel, there’s no barriers of being put in one set and that would be it.

“We have a big focus at the moment on developing independent workers. When they do a piece of work, it’s not just marked and forgotten about. There is time to reflect on it and then they have to go away and improve on it after either their teacher or another student has given some feedback.

“It’s about taking responsibility for their own learning.

“We’ve got quite a young staff. They have really run with the changes that I have brought in and are really excited about it.

“When a new head comes in, it’s all change, but they’ve really embraced it.

“We are trying to take on board a lot of the new things that are happening in education, but if it doesn’t benefit the learners, we don’t do it. It’s all about the learners in our school.”

One of the ideas that is being run by the school is a link with mental health charity Mind.

“We are part of a Wales pilot working with Mind, training young people to be working with their peers,” Mrs Bolton explained. “The young people who are involved in this may have had issues themselves or may have had family members have issues, there is empathy there.

“It makes the issue more approachable, we find, which is important.

“We have also got a Haven area, where we look after vulnerable children, which is something we are very proud of. It’s a space for the children to get support when things are going wrong or they need some support.”

“It’s really important to address this, because unless they are happy and have someone to listen to them, then they are not going to be effective learners.”

Fact file:

The school’s motto is Cerddwm Ymlaen, meaning Walk On.

The school is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary.

The school was opened in 1988 in Abercarn, and had 52 pupils. There are now 860 pupils, and a further 140 in the sixth form.

The school is named after Saint Gwynllyw, the patron saint of the city of Newport.

Ms Elan Bolton has been headteacher for two years.